I have to say I don’t recognise much in Manchester on the rare occasions when I go back – and what I do recognise has often changed. Finally saw the new look Hacienda – now sadly converted to flats and surrounded by lots of buildings full of glass and chrome.
But whilst the city centre is looking sprucer by the visit, it’s not always true of elsewhere in the city.
Nothing contrasts the differences than Belle Vue – on the A57 from Hyde to Manchester.
Back in the late 1980s Belle Vue was probably best known for a greyhound track and a closed zoo. Then something happened – one of the first out of town multiplex cinemas in the area arrived in the form of Showcase Manchester.
All of a sudden, Belle Vue was where it was at. The tired Granada Bowling Alley became a shining bingo hall. Another opened down the road. Next to the cinema, a branch of Deep Pan Pizza Company and Burger King followed.
Looking back now I can remember the similarities between Belle Vue and the parts of Houston, Texas which I’d seen not long before. It was the first time I’d seen anywhere try and copy the American format of a great big long road and shoving everything on it, each with their own car park.
It wasn’t just the entertainment industry that set up camp. The car showrooms appeared – starting with the ever increasing developments by action companies Stoodley and British Car Auctions both of which seemed to move every five minutes. It seemed like it was unstoppable.
Driving through now, is a different story. Fatty Arbuckles seemed to close almost as soon as it opened. Burger King closed for some time, was reopened for a bit but has now been razed to the ground.
The bingo halls are still in business, but the multitude of car showrooms seems to have disappeared. The car business seemed to thrive for a bit longer than the entertainment industry – but most noticeable is the former Stoodley auction house on the main road. Some time after being built Stoodley moved on, and the place was deserted for a while. Then another company took it on.
Things must have been reasonable for a while as an elaborate second showroom was built on the site. Almost as soon as it was built, the entire place was boarded up. Whilst Yes Car Credit has taken the main hall, the second showroom doesn’t look like its been touched for years. Down the road a second glass palace car showroom suffered the same fate.
And the place that started it all off? Showcase Manchester is still open but the huge signs in its windows reveal a story – bargain priced tickets for all showings, seven days a week of just £3.50. The abundance of the next generation of multiplexes that have recently spread through the area seem to have taken their toll on the pioneer.
And the places that have taken off aren’t on the American format either. The long road, the separate car parks? Why have that when you can giant superstores, cinema, fast food and a pub all laid out around one car park?
It’s not the first time Belle Vue has gone into a slump – the closure of the zoo all those years ago paid their toll, but it’s not the only group of doomed ventures on that road. Just a bit further to Manchester you’ll pass row after row of bricked up pubs – the optimistic "To Let" signs that I remember from my youth, replaced by bricked up windows, the pub signage finally removed.
And just a bit further down in Ardwick, next to music venue The Apollo, the signs of an old nightclub. Closed for as long as I can remember. Tall, ragged, empty.
Ardwick and Belle Vue have a rather doomed feeling about them – like someone should just finally give up and raze it all to the ground. But then by the time the do, some other fad will have come along.
Of course this doesn’t just happen in the outskirts. Fads change everywhere – and no where more noticeable than this is on the heart of Oxford Road in Manchester. The sad sight of the historic Odeon Manchester cinema – which housed a première in 1992, now closed and boarded up. Ironically this giant cinema was not closed down by the multiplexes like Showcase, but by the other side of the new generation of multiplexes – those located right in the middle of town.
Ah yes, the times, they are a changin’.