Bold Street is booming.
Flanked by the Bombed Out Church at one end and the city’s main shopping drag at the other, it’s filled with foodie destinations, hip coffee shops and quirky little stores.
The street has long since established itself as one of Liverpool’s best loved destinations for tourists and locals alike.
With such a rich offering of shops and restaurants, the last few years have seen even more exciting new businesses springing up on the street.
From veggie Indian street food to a Korean barbecue, the pace of change on Bold Street has been rapid.
But in the face of so much upheaval, some businesses have weathered every change to cement themselves as Bold Street institutions.
We spent a morning talking to some of Bold Street’s longest-standing businesses to try and find out how they’ve withstood so much change.
“There was a time back in the 80s when you’d see all the local celebrities in here”
It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but in the case of Cafe Tabac it’s fair to say this bar and restaurant is a genuine Bold Street institution.
Tabac has been going since 1974, easily placing it among the longest standing businesses on the street.
Serving up famous breakfasts plus great coffee and cocktails, the venue also hires out its cinema room for free.
While so much has changed around it, Tabac has stayed largely the same for years – with regulars coming back for the same reliable service and experience.
Joanna Jones is Tabac’s business development manager, and she knows all about the venue’s position in Bold Street history.
She said: “There was a time back in the 80s where no matter what time of day it was, you’d come in and see all the local celebrities in here. All the liverpool movers and shakers were in here, day and night.
“And then also when the star names came from out of town, they knew Cafe Tabac was the place to be.
“I was chatting to Pete Wylie in here a couple of weeks ago about an argument he had with Courtney Love in here – there are too many stories.”
Joanna acknowledges that there aren’t many venues that have lasted this long, and noted the same changes seen by many long-standing businesses on the street: “There are a lot more eateries thats for sure. There used to be far more clothes shops but as we move forward in this modern world, a lot of that can be ordered online and delivered to your door the next morning.”
She added: “For the business, it’s a huge achievement to still be around today. You have to look to the owner Elaine Clarke for that – she has made it what it is today.
“Elaine started working here for her aunty Rita when she was just 14 and took over when she was given the opportunity. The rest, as they say is history.”
We asked each of the businesses for their secret to keeping a business going for so long, in the face of such boundless change.
Joanna told the ECHO: “Know your audience and what they want. I’m biased but I think our staff are some of the friendliest in town, often sitting with customers and chatting with their kids or petting their dogs.
“We are really versatile in that we have groups and big parties in hiring our private back room but we also get lots of single diners here and many people in at night having drinks on their own because they know Tabac is a place where they will be made to feel welcome, they will feel comfortable and at ease.
“That kind of customer service is drummed into staff at the big chains and corporate establishments – they try to teach it, and it often feels awkward and scripted. But here, it is a big part of our recruitment process.”
“It’s the right home for us”
Down from Tabac stands News From Nowhere, Bold Street’s radical book shop.
Unlike every other long-standing business on the street, the store has no ‘boss’ and no ‘owner’, instead being run by a women’s co-op.
News From Nowhere has been going since 1974, the same year as Tabac, but only moved to Bold Street in 1989, taking up two different premises in that time.
Mandy Vere has worked at the store for 44 years, making her one of the longest-serving staff members in such a Bold Street mainstay.
The store was formerly based on Manchester Street and Whitechapel, eventually finding its home on Bold Street, which Mandy says “is the right home for us because we fit in with the bohemian culture of the area”.
However, when News From Nowhere first set up its stall in 1989, the street was far from the thriving picture we see today.
Mandy, 64, said: “When we first arrived it was the case that all you could see was to let signs in the 70s and 80s because it was suffering from the managed decline of Liverpool that was Thatcher’s policy.
“When we moved in it wasn’t a thriving street but it had a lot of independents and was the independent area of the city.”
She added: “During this time I would say there have been a lot of changes. It vastly improved as more and more independents started to take leases and come on to the street.
“There have always been interesting businesses on Bold Street. It’s not just the businesses and retail, but it has it’s Oxfam and the Women’s Health and Information Centre. It has a real mixture.
“Mattas and Rennies are the kind of family run businesses that people put their heart and soul into, and that’s why they’re still here.”
While Bold Street is perhaps best known for it’s incredible food scene, many of the longest standing businesses are retail outlets.
This sea-change towards more restaurants and bars as high street shops close down was a theme that kept coming up on the street.
Mandy told the ECHO: “I would say it’s in the last five to 10 years there has been a real trend away from retail and towards eateries. I would say it has tipped too far now and we’re in danger of the night time economy coming to the detriment of retail which is being eclipsed.”
She added: “We have seen lots of changes and I think there needs to be much more help from the council and central government for retail and high street retail outlets. Bold Street at the moment is bucking the trend.”
“If they alter too much in on go there’s less chance for shops”
Another business that expressed concern about the growing trend towards restaurants and away from retail was Shared Earth.
The ethical store sells everything from salt lamps to bamboo socks, with a bohemian feel that fits right in on the quirky street.
Jen Harland started as a sales assistant with the company 14 years ago and now works as retail director of the Liverpool branch.
Like News From Nowhere, Jen commented on the trend away from retail, telling the ECHO: “There are a lot less shops and a lot more restaurants. It’s difficult for the shops because when one shop closes there’s less incentive for shoppers to come up here.
“People come up for food but not everyone who comes to town shopping includes food in that too.”
Over the years, there’s been plenty of talk about pedestrianising Bold Street – but it’s not a move that this retail outlet would embrace.
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Jen said: “If they change the bus routes and pedestrianise Bold Street I think it would hurt the shops because there’s no parking this side of town.
“The restaurants are a pull because they’re all independents and they’re all nice.
“They bring people in but you worry that if they alter too much stuff in on go there’s less chance [for shops], especially for people with mobility issues.”
Despite the challenges for businesses on Bold Street, Shared Earth has kept going thanks to its niche offering.
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Jen said: “It helps because we’re an ethical company and people shop with their conscience and for us that has been a growing trend across the board.”
With so many ethical, independent and unusual shops on the street, Jen said shoppers will often come for one and then stay for the others.
“It’s always been a great and quirky street – but it’s gone from strength to strength”
Just a stone’s throw from Cafe Tabac is another independent that’s been serving customers since 2002.
Soul cafe serves up breakfasts and soul food specials from its Bold Street base, with people coming back time and again for their favourite dishes.
The restaurant and cafe offering on Bold Street has changed massively in recent years, being shaped by changing food trends.
But while many of these businesses don’t stick around, Soul has occupied a reliable place on the street for years.
Janine Hancock owns Soul and manages the kitchen, a hectic job she somehow manages to fit around her work as a longhaul air stewardess for British Airways.
Speaking to the ECHO, Janine said: “We’ve seen many food businesses come and go in our time here. But certainly in the past five years the street has become a haven for restaurants. It is now a really bustling and popular place.”
Competition is fierce on Bold Street for restaurants trying to get diners through the door when there’s so much choice.
But Janine said her secret is to keep things simple. She said: “We provide fresh food, sourced from local suppliers wherever possible, cooked well. We provide great, fresh coffee from good quality beans which are roasted especially for us by a local roastery.
“And above all, we provide excellent, professional and friendly customer service.
“We never forget that customers have a choice and we’re delighted that so many continue to choose us.”
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