The palace of creative commerce is reopening this weekend with new measures in place

Self-styled emporium of eclecticism and totem of indie commerce, Afflecks, will be reopening the doors of its four-storey vintage and handmade shopping arcade this weekend - Saturday 20th June. From Tuesday 23rd June, it will then operate five days a week from Tuesday to Friday 10.30am - 6pm, and Saturday 10am - 6pm. 

We are family - traders and customers - we will stick together, and we will rise again

The operations team and stallholders have been working flat out to deep clean and safety-proof its labyrinthine corridors. It won’t quite be the Afflecks you remember but it needs you more than ever. There will be a one-way system in place, with fewer entrance and exit points - the Tib Street doors will be closed - as well as hand sanitiser stations and limited numbers of customers allowed inside. But how are the people of Afflecks feeling and how have they coped so far?

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A haven of creative commerce Jody Hartley

Bruntwood’s Tony Martin, whochas been head honcho at Afflecks since 2007, said: "The team and I are really excited to be re-opening the doors so that our customers can come and visit us and support our independent traders.

“There is a lot of love out there for Afflecks and we have already seen some great engagement on our social channels with people biting at the bit to come and visit us. Kerry Rooms, our retail operations manager, has been working hard behind the scenes with our risk management team to ensure that we can reopen with all the safety measurements in place. Team Afflecks and our family of traders are all really looking forward to welcoming everybody from this Saturday.”

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Choose to shop independent Jody Hartley

Kim Taylor, manager of Afflecks OG Rowfers, has worked in the store for almost 30 years. She told us, “It was always going to feel strange going back to work after such a long time off. 

“It doesn't feel like going back after a holiday though, more like it did after the arena bombing or the bombing in '96. I’m apprehensive about going on the train. I haven’t been into Manchester or on public transport all the time I've been off work. It’s so strange thinking what I need to do on a personal level, physically and mentally. I read so many comments on social media saying that we're lucky to have a job to go back to but this is just the beginning, it's a worrying time and needs to be successful. We really need the support of our customers.”

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The Manchester Shop and arcade entrance Jody Hartley

Carl Myatt has been in Afflecks since 1996 with various shops. His right hand woman Miki Christi, who describes herself as the high priestess of selling stuff (that’s retail manager to you and me) currently presides over The Manchester Shop and Luna (formerly Extreme Largeness). Miki is feeling enthusiastic about Afflecks reopening, 

“We are 'buzzin' about reopening The Manchester shop. We can't wait to see everyone's faces, colleagues, friends, customers and all the characters of the Northern Quarter. As an independent shop it's vital we open our doors and welcome customers back if we are to survive. We have implemented some safety measures - distancing bee spots, sanitiser, limited staff, screens and a one-way system in the shop. We've changed the way we restock and take deliveries. We understand the need to ensure the safety of our customers and staff and want everyone to know we've taken all the measures possible. 

“We are also putting more emphasis on our online shop for those who prefer to shop from home and have seen a huge response to our Coffee For Craig charity mugs, which has been ace. It's a relief to have an opening date and to have all the measures in place to ensure our team is looked after and the public feel safe. It's going to be a tricky few weeks, seeing if trade starts to pick up and if customers are coming into the city.”

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Waseem and fellow shop owner in PPE
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The deep clean at Waxworks ready to open

Afflecks veteran Waseem Hussain has owned his shop Waxworks with his wife Saira for 15 years after previously running smaller stalls. He told us, “WaxWorks will be having a massive clean-up and rearrangement ready to welcome back customers in a new and strange era. Only having a small unit, we’ll only have capacity for one to three customers at a time in our dress shop with brands such as Hearts and Roses, Voodoo Vixen, Hell Bunny and Jawbreaker.” 

They also run The Henna station and The Waxing Room, which will have to wait until July to reopen. With safety measures like the cash machine being out of action, limited customer numbers and no fitting rooms for the time being, Waz is a bit worried about the impact on sales but feeling positive overall.

“We have been turned down for a grant, as we don't pay council tax directly; we pay in a combined fee of rent, rates and electric to Bruntwood. But we, the Afflecks family, have been through hardships of all sorts over time. A small core of businesses are the pillars that uphold Afflecks and its values of togetherness, compassion, love, understanding and acceptance of all people regardless of colour, creed, class, age, or gender. We are family - traders and customers - we will stick together, and we will rise again.”

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The Palace Barber is hoping to reopen in July

One trader who is unable to reopen this weekend is Palace Barber Steve McCarthy, who has been serving happy customers in his inclusive barbershop for 14 years. With hairdressers not able to go back to work just yet, he is hoping to be back in business in July. He told us how lockdown has affected him.

“I found the whole lockdown situation very difficult indeed on a personal and professional level. I haven’t been able to work for almost four months and I’ve missed it so much. Our job is very creative and social and to go from that to complete isolation is tough. The financial situation has been very difficult too.”

While other traders have been able to move their operations at least partially online and continue bringing in some income, hairdressers have had it tough. Steve told us he can't wait to reopen.

“I wish it was sooner to be honest. I’m eager to get back. I’m not looking forward to the restrictions that will be in place - we’ll have fewer customers for a start. We sanitise our hands and sterilise our equipment regularly so we will continue to do so but even more. There will be hand sanitiser for customers too. All our cleaning products are anti-bacterial and we will make sure we're using them frequently. We’ve always followed good hygiene so I’d like our customers to feel reassured.”

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Many stalls have installed perspex screens for the protection of customers and staff

Terry Carter, owner of Crystal Henge says, “I’m very happy to be trading again. I’ve missed my shop, my fabulous crystals and my regular customers such a lot. It’s a lifestyle business and my income, buying habits, importing routine etc. suddenly ground to a halt.

“I have taken lockdown very seriously, I have been shielding because I have been helping vulnerable family members cope with very serious medical issues and ongoing treatments. I have coped well, maintained an exercise routine as well as reading, writing and drawing, but have certainly found isolation overwhelming at times.

“In my shop, there’s a new perspex screen, hand sanitiser for all customers, an enlarged, more spacious shop area, a hepa filter and extractor fan to promote clear air and ventilation and I’m limiting to three customers at a time.”

One of the coolest things about Afflecks is it has always provided the opportunity for people just starting out to open smaller stalls and build something without the huge overheads of a standalone shop. Chavez Finlayson is one of the newest stallholders, only opening just at the end of 2019 with his discounted unisex streetwear outlet Xtra Medium. He’s managed to keep afloat during lockdown and told us he's happy to be back this weekend. 

“Although the cashflow was brought to a halt, being such a nimble business with very few staff along with helpful initiatives put in place by Afflecks, we've been able to survive this period with very few issues. I'm looking forward to seeing how Afflecks's loyal supporters react - Will there be queues around the block? Will their buying preferences have changed? How many of them might have lost their job and have less disposable income? It will definitely be interesting to watch the situation unfold. The unit I rent is pretty small so I'll have to limit the amount of people that can be inside at one time as well as wearing PPE at all times and ensuring all touch points are regularly disinfected.”

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Afflecks has always been inclusive and eclectic Jody Hartley

Director of retail at Bruntwood Works, Andrea George, commented: “We’re delighted to be able to support our Afflecks family back to the building. We’ve worked very hard, together with all the traders, to create a safe and sustainable independent shopping experience. We recognise how hard hit small businesses have been by this crisis and we’re committed to ensuring that the independent retail remains at the heart and soul of the high street as shops begin to reopen”

If you’re keen to get shopping again, it’s really important to support these small, creative local businesses. The millionaires running huge high street chains don’t need all your money to stay afloat - your local independents are relying on you to keep them alive. And let’s face it, the shops in Afflecks are way more interesting anyway. 

Afflecks, 52 Church St, Manchester M4 1PW

What measures are in place for your safety?

  • 2M SOCIAL DISTANCING: Across the building.
  • AN INCREASED CLEANING SCHEDULE: Of all areas with a particular focus on touchpoints.
  • HAND SANITISER: Stations at entrance and exit points.
  • NEW ENTRANCE AND EXITS PROCESS: Entrance-only via Church Street. Managed entrance and exit via Oldham Street. Tib Street entrance will be closed.
  • ONE-WAY SYSTEM: In certain common areas of the building.
  • REDUCED CAPACITY: Allowing for social distancing across the site.
  • COVID-SAFE TRADERS All traders have completed COVID-safe risk assessment and will be operating their own individual COVID-SAFE measures.
  • ATM AND GAMES MACHINES: Not in operation.
  • LIFT CLOSURES The lifts will be closed except for requested access only.

Read next: New indie traders announced for Hatch, as ‘creative village’ trebles in size

Read again: Manchester shops and markets - What’s reopening when?