‘During Christmas, it’s hard to step into the Trafford Centre without a sense of foreboding’
My partner Simone & I often have birthday lunch at Trafford Centre: Tampopo, on the big benches, down by the open kitchen; gyoza, crackers, & whichever Thai curry is on the menu. Followed by a quick wiz around Waterstone’s (not so good since it downsized from one end of Regent Crescent to the other). And not so good either, since Muji finally gave up entirely on Manchester.
I know I’m not supposed to, but I enjoy the Trafford Centre. The ludicrous design is slavishly based on Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, for the Great Exhibition. The acres of marble lining it out, is real. Ridiculously, even the statuary is solid, carved in studios in their hundreds. I always smile at Mrs Whitaker’s sixties Mercedes SLR convertible, roped-off in its bay outside the Orient food mall, as though it has been valet parked whilst Mrs W, mother of the owner, takes her lunch. Manto opened a bar here largely to cater to gay shop workers. & Yo-sushi opened in Selfridges. There used, by the way, to be three Selfridges in the world….one in London, two in Manchester.
I like the staff, so preened & posing, the boys lacquered & ripped, the girls pierced & pouting; gossiping about who copped off last night, & ready to go again. They make me smile.
The fake marble columns, smooth & artfully painted, are meant to be exactly that; stage set.
Lewis’s on Market Street Piccadilly (now Primark) was famous for its Christmas displays, once flooding the basement to produce a mini-Venice. Pre-Amazon, retail was a big deal. The Arndale is likely now to outlive the Trafford Centre precisely because it is smaller scale and enmeshed in the circulation of the city. Unlikely as that was, Arndale is now part of the heart & circulation of the central anatomy.
I’ll likely go to Tampopo Trafford Centre on my birthday in early January 2023. I’ll do as Jack has done here, & wonder through a place that has very nearly outlived its function. The biggest problem Trafford Centre now has is what to do with its huge marbled, glazed & glittering halls, when all the shoppers have gone to their respective flat-pack computer tables, resolutely to shop, solitary & contactless, on-line.
Great article that just about sums up the centre and unfortunately its probable demise.
I’m retired now, but I used to do a lot of work back of house on it’s services.
John Whittaker whose company built the place, long before INTU, was a big believer in employing people.
At it inception, all employees were directly employed and to this day they employ a number of the disabled community.
People may dislike the way it’s run, but it’s a big employer and a trip round the back of house is an eye opener. Contact the management centre and see if they’ll take you round.
You’ll be amazed.
The Trafford Centre is actually a work of unintentional genius. The design of the place is both glitzy and bizarre at the same time. And because it's so weird for a shopping centre, it doesn't look dated - just strange. Just a thought about your piece; we have all heard snippets of conversations when we're there. We all have our opinion of the place, and yes, it's like the third circle of hell before Christmas. I'd like to hear from the people who work there. People are fascinating if you stop and take the time to talk to them: from the young African lad on the watch concession who told me about his enthusiasm for high end watches, how he saved for a year to buy one and how his Girlfriend won't let him wear it, because she's afraid he'll get robbed, to the teenager working in John Lewis to save money for when he studies Rocket Science, to the travel agent who told me of her journey to India with her mum and dad. These are all conversations I've had with people at the Traff in the last year (and I'm a southerner) Go back. Take some time and talk to people. It'll be a far more interesting take on the Trafford Centre.
The salient fact omitted from this article is that the Trafford Centre is now owned by a large Canadian pension fund having been bought out of insolvency after the collapse of Intu, its previous owners.Whilst the pandemic may have hastened Intu's demise I feel that in the future it's less likely that new mega shopping destinations of this type will be built.As you write the sort of shops in the centre are pitched towards the younger age spectrum,a demographic that is less likely to have cash to spend in the future.Personally I like small towns with individually owned businesses such as Bury or Knutsford.
'The air smells like how ketchup smells when it has already dried on a child’s food-spattered face.'
Very descriptive - and immediately conjures up that smell which I've never been able to put a name to before.
I remember when the Trafford Centre construction was finished. I'd never seen anything like it before, and it made me think of that poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge : 'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree.'' Coleridge was reported to be under the influence of opium when he got the idea for that poem - and I sometimes wonder if the architect[s] who designed the Trafford Centre were similarly inspired. It certainly is a pleasure dome for anyone who is into consumerism - a real Temple of Mammon.
My partner and I visit once a year, where we invariably have our annual argument. There's something about the place that puts us both on edge...
That being said I absolutely adore how eclectic the design is, it's a unique experience compared to most other shopping centres. There's a bit more soul to the place.
I dread the rare visits I have to make to the Trafford Centre although. now Debenham's is gone, I may never go again. I always wonder why, as a size 16, (comfy in 18) I can rarely find anything to fit when all the people milling around there seem to be my size and larger.
I've never visited but have seen it many times from the M60 when in the area visiting family.
Jack, your descriptions are priceless and have confirmed my thoughts on the place. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of shopping but for me ,these days, I prefer the amble round some indie shops in a quaint town or two when I have the money or the inclination .
My sister has now moved to Yorkshire so even the drive by is a distant memory.
Enjoyed this article Jack.
Only ever been twice. ‘It’s against my religion’! Last time I went I almost ‘lost’ the car! Ghastly place!
I avoid it like the plague. Gives me a headache thinking about it!
I've managed to limit my visits to two. The first Boxing Day after it was opened we drove past and there was a queue of cars at noon at the motorway exit. We found that really depressing! Local small towns all suffered when it opened - the only reason it's there is to take the bread from other peoples' mouths. There was a time when government policy was to refuse planning permission to out of town shopping centres due to the extra traffic generated, but then the minister changed and they were allowed to go ahead.
Very amusing, especially the ketchup line!
Spot on - insightful amusing and depressingly accurate summary of the TC
I have always found the ersatz atmosphere in TTC very odd. The cod classical references give it the air of a temple to rampant consumerism. The shoppers (to my eye) almost have an air of desperation, as though they are trying to buy what TTC promises, but can't deliver. It's all so fake. The exterior carvings are interesting - take a look at the proportions of the lions next time you go. I avoid going there unless I have no alternative.