Preston's 'independent paradise' hidden in plain sight, where they're worried about one thing

Shop owner Alex White from Storm Cat
-Credit: (Image: Manchester Evening News)


When the sun is shining, there aren't many place like it. Preston's Cannon Street is a vibrant hub of colour, joy and flamboyance.

The street is filled with independent shops, it's a mix-match of vintage clothing stores, cafes, craft workshops and hairdressers.

A quick walk will take you past a plethora of businesses, each with its own unique identity. Calling in, you find out they all work together with one harmonious aim - to keep Preston thriving.

And that they do. Some have remained in business for over 20 years, others are newer arrivals - all keen to buy into the ethos in this corner of the city.

READ MORE:

Yet despite being so close to Fishergate, some say its location has been a bit of a hindrance. Tucked away from one of Preston's busiest shopping thoroughfares, sometimes there are just too many high street distractions to be noticed. It's great being a hidden gem when people are able to find you.

LancsLive took a stroll along Cannon Street to find out what keeps its spirit ticking. And how many have been coping with the first half of 2024 - which they describe as 'the worst ever', but refuse to let it dampen their spirits.

"We're like a little community"

Alex White runs Storm Cat, an alternative vintage clothing shop with her cousin and business partner, Roxanne Flynn. They opened up almost a year ago and started off selling vintage items, before branching out to accessories, pin badges and other clothing.

"A lot of people who come down, they tell us we're like a mini Affleck's Palace and that is exactly what we're aiming for," Alex said. "That is exactly the vibe we're going for.

Shop owner Alex White from Storm Cat
Shop owner Alex White from Storm Cat -Credit:Manchester Evening News

"We just want people to come. Everybody who comes in, loves it and they say there's nothing else like it in Preston - it's so colourful, individual and they absolutely love it.

"We have got a few regular customers that come back to us now which we appreciate massively." Talking about their location, Alex says all the shops have been feeling the difficult side of running a business more recently, adding: "It can seem a bit depressing, but when you go down a lot of the side streets in Preston there's some really interesting little shops.

"People don't necessarily know that we're here and we try our best to be visible to people. It's sometimes difficult to grab people's attention." She said: "Everybody's been really supportive and so helpful and lovely, so we're like a little community down Cannon Street."

Although Alex and Roxanne have experienced difficulties with their shop, they see it as an important gap in the market, especially in a city like Preston. Alex explained: "When I was younger, there were shops like this all over Preston, especially in the student areas. They've just sort of disappeared and I think that's a real shame, especially for the alternative community as well."

She added: "We try to offer something a bit different, we've got upcycled clothing, handmade clothes and vintage bits and bobs. The strangest things we can find - earrings with geese on them. We want it to be a welcoming place for all sorts of people."

"I invested my pension into the shop"

Louise McGuinness opened her shop, Creations Gifts and Cards in September 2022 after retiring from the nursing profession. Stopping her career before the coronavirus pandemic, Louise worked at Morrisons during this time and found her new passion through card making.

"I was thinking, I didn't like working for a boss," Louise told LancsLive. "So I invested my pension into the shop."

Shop owner Louise McGuinness from the Creations Gift and Craft shop
Shop owner Louise McGuinness from the Creations Gift and Craft shop -Credit:Manchester Evening News

For Louise's business, customers often book appointments to attend craft workshops, as well as clubs on Saturdays for children.

"The shop has a lot of handmade stuff from local makers," Louise added. "Even though I have bought wholesale, a lot of it is handmade. Local is important, mainly because of the sustainability, the travel and everything."

Talking about the location, Louise says it's "a lovely street" and everyone gets on with each other, but the lack of footfall is a big problem. She said: "This year since Christmas has been really slow, really really slow. Everybody on the street has noticed, even those that have been here for a long time."

Louise added: "It's only off Fishergate, but people seem to forget these side streets. There's some really lovely shops down this street and Winckley Street, but I think we do get forgotten.

"There's nothing at the top of the street, to draw people down and you've got nothing at the bottom for them to go to. Whereas on Winckley Street, you can see the square more or less from the top of the street, so it looks a lot more pleasant."

"We don't know how to get them to come down"

Across the road is a well-established clothing shop that's been on Cannon Street for the best part of six years. Retrogue Vintage Clothing offers big brand names such as Nike, Adidas, Fila, Fred Perry and Levi's.

Ellis Beck works at Retrogue Vintage Clothing
Ellis Beck works at Retrogue Vintage Clothing -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Working there is Ellis Beck, who says it's "difficult" having a business on Cannon Street. Another anomaly with the area is that the street and businesses there only start from half way down the road, with other buildings which appear empty are the most visible from the high street.

Ellis said: "It's quiet. I know on a Saturday, you can walk through the town centre and you're jumping and dodging across people because it's so busy.

"You get down here and it's just deserted, there's nothing down here. We're trying our best, we've got things going on, we've all got signs out and tables out but it still doesn't do anything to get people down.

"It's getting to a point where we think, we don't know what else we can do which is a shame. We do have regulars who come down to multiple businesses here but it's the people who aren't regulars, we don't know how to get them to come down which is the shame."

"It's ghostly"

The oldest shop on the street is European Fine Arts and Antiques, which was opened by Brian Beck, the father of Ellis Beck, 28 years ago. Over the years, he's seen shops come and go but doesn't think Cannon Street will return to its "vibrant" past.

Brian Beck from the European Fine Arts and Antiques shop
Brian Beck from the European Fine Arts and Antiques shop -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Brian said: "It was full of solicitors and accountants and that's why I came here, I thought it would be ideal. I opened slowly because my game's art, Victorian, Georgian art.

"I opened up thinking, barristers chambers there and judge's chambers on Winckley Square would be ideal, but it wasn't. I had to mix it with pots, jewellery and ceramics, but it worked. I don't know what adapting you could do now, because there's no footfall.

"There's no real footfall down the street, not now. It's ghostly and that's really disturbing me to think, what has actually happened here?"

In his shop, Brian sells a whole range of antiques and treasures, including a pair of David Beckham's football boots which have recently sold to a bar owner in Spain for around £4,000. However, Brian fears with no input or change, independent shops will be wiped from the high street entirely.

He added: "We lost our corner shops a long time ago. We're going to lose our sole traders, it's going to go. It's just going to be a certain handful of the very rich, rich, rich who are controlling it. Of course, you've got the online business but I don't see it recovering unless something's going to change drastically."

"We all try to work together"

Cannon Street is filled with independent shops, colour and community spirit
Cannon Street is filled with independent shops, colour and community spirit -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Catherine McLean owns Strictly Dancing, a dance shop which has been on Cannon Street for 21 years. Working as a dance teacher, Catherine took over the shop three years ago and says people often plan to visit her shop, but footfall does help, when it happens.

Talking about the community of Cannon Street, she said: "We all know each other and we all have a WhatsApp group and look out for each other. Especially when it's sunny and people are outside, enjoying the sunshine.

"We all try to work together to promote each other as well." Catherine says visitors to her shop will come far and wide, with some from the Lake District wanting to buy point shoes or other dancing paraphernalia in person.

When this happens, she works hard to recommend the other businesses on the street, including the bars and eateries.

A Preston City Council spokesperson said: "Cannon Street is a fantastic asset to the centre of Preston, hosting a range of independent shops, bars and cafes for local residents and visitors to enjoy. Preston City Council in the past have supported events on the street such as their Christmas Markets and would welcome the opportunity to promote more events on that Street."