A bright future in store?
Former employee Armand Beasley hopes the sale of House of Fraser will mark the beginning of a successful new era for the iconic Manchester store Cheshire Life: November 2018 Cheshire Life: November 2018
If you were to ask any Mancunian over 40 about iconic Manchester shops and sites, I’m sure Kendals would be mentioned. Under 30s may say House of Fraser, but to me and many others this Art Deco masterpiece will always be referred to as Kendal’s or Kendal Milne.
The recent acquisition of the struggling House of Fraser group by Mike Ashley, for a cool £90 million, made me reminisce about my time working and shopping in this iconic store.
For a few years I have been concerned about the lack of identity and direction not only for my beloved store but for House of Fraser in general, especially when I’ve been in branches like Rackhams, Altrincham.
I have such wonderful memories of shopping with my grandma in Lewis’s and in Kendals. The delicious food hall, which was accessed via a tunnel under Deansgate to the basement of the building now occupied by Waterstone’s but then moved in the 80s to a space where handbags and accessories are today.
Kendals was often referred to as ‘the Harrods of the North’, not only because it was once owned by the group but because of the service and quality of goods available.
In the early 90s I was working as an actor and had just come back from performing in a musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and found myself meandering in Kendals. I struck up a conversation with a lady who worked on the Clinique counter and before I knew it, I had bagged myself a job on the counter! I had always loved the atmosphere in the store with the perfumery department looking exceptionally glamorous with the marble Greek gods attached to columns with the individual beauty counters surrounding them. As one of the few men in cosmetics at that time and dressed in Clinique’s signature white lab coat, I stood out.
There was always something fun going on in store from the fabulous aerial catwalk fashion show that ran through cosmetics one night, to Rupaul rocking up in a limo to the launch of Manchester’s first MAC counter.
On the morning of Saturday June 15 1996 Kendals was busier than usual and there was a strange atmosphere. Apparently, there had been an evacuation of part of the city and police had cordoned an area off. I had no idea what was going on but in those days there were quite a lot of bomb threats from the IRA , with two notable devices exploding in 1992 injuring 65 people.
The cordoned off area finished at Kendals, so a lot of people thought instead of going home let’s do a spot of shopping.
At 11.17am a 1500kg bomb exploded outside Marks & Spencer. I will never forget this moment.
There was a silence, then my skin felt as if it was being pulled then pushed and that’s when I heard the ear-piercing sound of Kendal’s windows shattering. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt and the city and its people rebuilt itself.
In 1998, I was trained in all the major cosmetic brands and I opened the Personal Beauty Studio on the second floor where people could book in to get unbiased advice on what brands would be better for their skin and make-up needs. I held this position for two years before heading to London to be GMTVS regular beauty expert.
In 2005 House of Fraser refurbished the store and formally dropped the Kendal’s name but because it’s a listed building, the Kendal Milne & Co name is still there above the main entrance.
So, what is next for the House of Fraser? Apparently, Mike Ashley wants to reduce the number of stores from 59 to 47 and reinvigorate the brand. I would love to see Kendals have more of a boutique feel along with the other flagship stores like Frasers Glasgow, Jenner’s Edinburgh and Rackhams Birmingham. Maybe part of the fashion department that is dedicated to showcasing talent from that particular city?
Bring back the food hall too, and focus on local produce. A lot of people have focused on Mr Ashley’s ownership of Sports Direct and concerns over whether HOF will adopt their very particular merchandising style. But let’s not forget he also owns the high end Flannels stores, do he does have an understanding of premium brands.
Whatever happens I’m sure the future of this beautiful department store is secure and it will be standing long after we’re gone.
‘I would love to see Kendals have more of a boutique feel and maybe part of the fashion department dedicated to showcasing talent from the city’