Behind the scenes at Manchester's legendary Afflecks Palace
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 March 2019
Shopping at Manchester's famous emporium isn't just for students, tourists and celebs like Lady Gaga.
It must be about 20 years since I’ve been shopping in Afflecks Palace, the ‘alternative’ emporium that came into existence in 1982, long before the Northern Quarter was transformed into an uber fashionable neighbourhood.
Of course I’d mooched there as a twentysomething, hunting among the rails of Red or Dead or Vicky Martin for something to wear at clubs like the Hacienda and Berlin but never thought I’d go back. Not only did it belong to another era, it belonged to another tribe, people with Mohicans, tattoos and Goth clothing. Or so I thought.
But I’m up for a shopping challenge and as it has been a decade since Afflecks was taken over by Bruntwood, the people who own a wide range of smart city centre properties, it seemed a good excuse for a re-visit. My mission: Could I find something I really, really wanted at Afflecks today?
As soon as I stepped through the door on Church Street, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. Here were the vintage clothing and collectibles I remembered from the past, but there are other things; an outlet devoted to toy soldiers, a barbers and lots of jewellery.
I am taken by one outlet called Rowfers selling rings and things and I learn from Kim Taylor the manager that I am in good company.
‘We’ve sold a ring to Debbie Harry and Joe Strummer (of punk band The Clash) bought a shirt,’ she reveals.
Kim has the kind of cool look that you might expect to find at Afflecks and it turns out she has modelled in the capital of alt culture, Berlin.
‘I love working here because you can be yourself, especially a few years ago when I had a more Gothic look,’ she says.
‘It’s a very sociable place to be too.’
Efforts have been made to maintain the indie appeal of this Manchester institution as manager Tony Martin explains.
‘Obviously Bruntwood are a big corporate company and there were a lot of concerns from the general public, with Afflecks being such an independent business they didn’t like this white collar involvement.
‘But we’ve just let it be what it wants to be without forcing it. Obviously retail trends change but other than that we have people coming since Afflecks first started and they say it’s great to see it’s not changed that much.’
It’s a lot less grungy than it used to be and it has now become something of an arts hub with small galleries that have sprung up on the second and third floors.
‘At the moment we are going through an arts and crafts movement and we’ve got a lot of artists who are based here. A lot of artwork is painted onto the walls,’ explains Tony, who has managed the emporium ever since the Bruntwood takeover.
‘Vintage fashion has always been a big part of it and we’ve got a couple of businesses, Zephyr and American Graffiti, that have been here since it first started.’
Afflecks isn’t just a student haunt, it’s a major tourist attraction and there’s the possibility of bumping into a celebrity or two, which is always a thrill.
‘A big part of our customer base is tourists. How they know about us I don’t know,’ laughs Tony.
‘But we are up there on Tripadvisor.
‘We get a lot of famous faces. Matt Healy from the 1975 was in recently - he comes in quite regularly and we get famous faces from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks. We’ve had Leona Lewis in and Girls Aloud and we also had a visit from Lady Gaga.
‘We close at six o clock and I was working that night and somebody knocked on the office door at about quarter to six and said “Lady Gaga’s in” and I walked around the corner and there she was with a big minder and an entourage of people and a French bulldog.
‘She had a full walk around and left in a different outfit to what she was wearing when she came in. Some of the dancers from her show had come here and told her about this place and she wanted to come. And what a lovely person she was as well.’
Another reason to visit Afflecks is to support fledgling businesses. It was here that Wayne Hemingway set up his Red or Dead fashion brand and where property developer Tom Bloxham raised the money that would launch Urban Splash, by selling posters while he was a student at Manchester University.
Egoiste Art Gallery, for example has been described as ‘the best independent cult gallery in Manchester’ and it is here you’ll find a variety of works from as little as £20 to £1,500, including the pop art-ish works of Baiba Auria and quirky sculptures by Sonia Dalga.
Gallery owner Andrew Courtenay says he started out selling the work of only two artists and gradually added others to his portfolio.
‘I never dreamed I would be able to have a gallery in the centre of Manchester and I wouldn’t if it wasn’t for Afflecks,’ he says.
‘What I love about it is being able to do that and now it’s a gallery hot spot.’
As I spend more time at Afflecks, grabbing a coffee at Gingers Comfort Emporium and talking to the people who work there I am struck by what a fantastic experience shopping here is. I adore not knowing what I might find among the rails and racks and I do find a black vintage blouse covered with stars that is very similar to those being produced by the Rixo London label but at a tenth of the cost.
So my advice: don’t come here just for nostalgia, come here to shop. Come with your daughter come with your other half, come to buy a piece of art and to soak up the boho vibe and enjoy a what must be one of the most unique experiences the city has to offer. u
Afflecks Palace ,
52 Church Street, Manchester M4 1PW. 0161 839 0718, afflecks.com