The renaissance of the Victorian buildings has become a cornerstone of a huge wave of ongoing investment and regeneration in the city centre.
Rewind to 2017 and the site on the corner of Bridge Street and Fawcett Street housed dated shop fronts and boarded up period features, but city property developers, the Kirtley family, saw the potential in the row of interlinked buildings and today it’s home to a hub of creative independents - with more to come.
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The ground floor of the development is now complete and features Bou-chique womenswear, Fat Unicorn deli, Master Debonair menswear, Cafe 1851 bar, Sweet Petite cake shop and Black Door Hairdressing, with renovation work now turning to the upper floors.
After a hugely difficult time for hospitality and retail last Christmas, the traders have really been able to show off their offering this year and have all clubbed together to transform the building into a traditional festive corner, with a huge Santa, twinkling lights and an 80m long garland designed by TCL at Home.
And they’re urging Sunderland shoppers to be proud of their independents and consider them, and keeping their money in the city, when making their Christmas purchases.
Harry Collinson, who runs Cafe 1851 with wife Nicola, has long been involved in city centre retail with Collinsons jewellers, Pandora and The Looking Glass also among the family businesses.
"People should be proud of the city’s independents and what they offer,” said Harry. "We need to keep a hold of all these quality independents that took a huge chance in a pandemic.
“You make a huge difference when you shop local, you’re buying from a business that employs local people, people who live here, people whose kids go to school here. After last year retailers need a good Christmas.”
With its creative cocktails and menu of burgers, curries, jacket potatoes and more, Cafe 1851 is one of many new eateries to open in the city in 2021, and it’s one that doffs its cap to the history of the site in its decor.
"Business is building and last weekend we had our busiest yet at Cafe 1851, this area is like the city’s best-kept secret,” added Harry.
Next door, the prime corner unit houses Master Debonair menswear. The fashion store is a perfect fit for the space which once housed hatter Robert Mackie who could be seen making hats in the window, leading to the Hutchinson’s Buildings becoming affectionately known as Mackie's Corner.
Simon Whitaker, who also has successful Master Debonairs in Boldon and Chesterfield, said: "There’s so much more in the city centre now than there has been in previous years. You walk around and you can see all the effort being made, and everything coming together, it’s something that’s really starting to rival other cities.”
Businesswomen Donna Arkley and Helen Collinson were the first to move into the building two years ago as work commenced on its regeneration.
Back then their Bou-Chique womenswear shop was the only shop trading, but over the months it’s welcomed its neighbours which have now filled the ground floor.
"We were the first to move in and it was a shell of a building with lots of scaffolding up, no working clock and lots of repairs needed. But Alex (Kirtley) had a vision for the place, she hand-picked all the businesses and has been very specific, so that they all complement each other.
"Seeing the building now, it’s fabulous and all the businesses have embraced it and we all work together. This is more of a destination shopping area, but we’ve definitely seen more and more footfall as more businesses have opened.”
Seeing the potential in Mackie’s Corner, city businesswoman Tori Haig moved her established Black Door Hairdressing business from Stockton Road to the unit that was formerly Gossips.
She’s created a stunning salon, arguably one of the most stylish in the city, which is also a base for a number of other beauty businesses.
"December is always busy for us,” she said. “But we also have different gift sets and gift vouchers for presents. It’s great to see the building all dressed up for Christmas. Mackie’s Corner is a real experience for people, you can pop in and get your brows, hair or nails done, then go next door for a cocktail, get an outfit or enjoy some great food.”
Husband and wife team Scott and Amanda Martin, who have a combined 30 years’ experience in the high end hospitality sector, working in esteemed restaurants and hotels such as Newcastle’s Michelin-starred House of Tides, The Rosewood London, The Square Mayfair, as well as luxury ski company Ski Verbier Exclusive, opened their Fat Unicorn deli in the midst of the pandemic in December 2020.
Their deli and meal prep business was a gamble after they lost their jobs due to lockdown – but it’s one that’s paid off.
Today, they have a loyal following of regulars, calling in for cheese and meat boards, pastries and natural wines and they already have a number of orders for Christmas dinners, which are delivered cold and heated at home, as well as festive hampers brimming with quality, artisan products.
Amanda said: “We’ve had such a good reception, and it’s great looking back to this time last year to what it is now and how far we’ve come. “It’s been great watching the ground floor fill up, especially Master Debonair. The corner unit can be seen from across High Street West and up Fawcett Street and it’s a huge draw.
"As well as the businesses here, we work closely with other independents such as Wild Fire and The Little Shop, every one is very supportive of each other.”
Their picture perfect cakes often sell out, and all their festive afternoon tea slots booked up soon after going on sale.
But people can still call in to marvel at the fridges filled with home-made fudges, chocolates, cake jars, brownies, cheesecakes, brittles and more, and order Christmas Eve treat boxes and Christmas Day desserts.
Tommy and Laura Graham are another of the city’s lockdown success stories, opening their shop a year ago after winning a following thanks to their converted horse trailer selling takeaway cakes on the seafront.
“Our themed cakes do really well and we’ll be filling the fridges with Christmas cakes from December,” explained Laura. “We opened for one day before Christmas last year and had queues down the block, so we can’t wait to do it properly this year.
"The building looks great, like a proper traditional, Victorian Christmas.”
*Mackie's Corner will be hosting a late night shopping evening on Thursday, December 2 from 6pm until 8pm. Visitors can enjoy complimentary Prosecco and mulled wine, as well as tasters and offers in the stores.