Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Fake shops in vacant centre lots

A woman walks past the fake 'Roasta Coffee' outlet at Coronation Square shopping centre in Cheltenham

The owners of a struggling shopping centre have given it a new lease of life - by filling empty lots with fake shops.

Coronation Square used to be a "vibrant" area for shoppers and hosted two busy markets each week but trade fell dramatically in 2000, as the recession took hold, and the centre's bank, building society and post office closed.

Locals were forced to travel to Gloucester for their banking and cash withdrawals and began shopping in the city centre instead.

Coronation Square, in Hester's Way on the outskirts of Cheltenham, has been left with around 14 empty units out of a total of 37. These units have been fitted with fake shops to give the impression that the centre, which was built in the 1960s, is thriving once again.

Customers can now walk past shops including a hairdresser, greengrocer, travel agent and even a 'Roasta Coffee' shop instead of closed metal shutters.

Councillor Simon Wheeler, who is a borough and county councillor and sits on the Hesters Way Partnership, said the fake shops had made a "huge difference" to the centre.

"Not long ago it was a vibrant shopping area but when people could not get any money out they stopped visiting," he said. "A lot of the local community prefer to deal with cash and won't use cards. Once they had to go into the centre for their money they simply shopped there instead. The shops closed almost overnight. There used to be very few empty shops, there was a whole spectrum and a vibrant market twice a week.

"The owners of the shops decided they would rather see virtual shops than empty sells. I am very happy with it, it does actually make the centre look like a vibrant and busy place but when you lift the corner you can see that it is dead. Obviously it is a poor relation to having actual shops there."

City Dressing in Chippenham in Wiltshire, which specialises in fake shop fronts, created the five shops for Coronation Square. There is Coronation Greengrocers, Smart Travel, Roasta Coffee - designed to look like a Costa Coffee - Hair Creative and Star Guitar.

A spokesman for the owners told the Gloucestershire Echo he hoped the fake shops would draw potential retailers to the centre. He said: "They are virtual shops. We've posted up lifestyle photographs on vinyl. They help the area look vibrant and economically active."