Leeds Corn Exchange: Meet the proud independent traders celebrating the transformation of their shopping centre

The independent businesses of Leeds Corn Exchange are celebrating the grand opening of the Corn Exchange square this weekend.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 4:45 am

A multi-million pound project has seen Call Lane redesigned to open up more pedestrianised space, with trees and benches now providing a scenic gateway to the centre.

Melissa Blackwood owns Roller Girl Gang, which teaches adult roller skating classes and has a shop in the Corn Exchange.

She said sales had slumped for many of the centre's tenants during the year-long project, with unsightly barriers and difficulty accessing the building.

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The independent traders of the Corn Exchange are celebrating the grand opening of the new square outside the centre (Photo: Simon Hulme)

But now the new outdoor space has been unveiled, Melissa is excited for the summer ahead.

“It’s been really lovely to see life breathed back into the Corn Exchange," she told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"My shop is a destination - because we're a pro shop, people travel to us from all over the country and even abroad.

“But we’re trying to change the view of the local area for people who live here.

The multi-million pound project has seen Call Lane redesigned to open up more pedestrianised space, with trees and benches (Photo: Simon Hulme)

“There are some amazing independents. We know it’s much harder to support an independent business than it’s ever been and we’re battling with the rise of internet giants.

“But what we do really well is the personal service, which the internet cannot compete with.”

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Leeds Corn Exchange to unveil new outdoor space after huge refurbishment project

The Corn Exchange is home to a raft of independent businesses; visitors can pick up a bite to eat from OWT or Bruschetta, browse handmade art at Simcha Gallery or even get a tattoo at Red studio.

Melissa Blackwood is the founder of Roller Girl Gang, which has a shop inside the Corn Exchange (Photo: Simon Hulme)

OWT's co-founder, Esther Miglio, said she is inspired by the Grade I listed Victorian building every morning.

She added: “When customers first come into the Corn Exchange, they don’t expect the collection of vendors here.

"They expect a museum or something a bit dusty, then when they arrive it’s full of colours and there’s a huge amount of choice.

“It’s getting better and better since we moved in. It feels like you’re in the centre of the universe.”

Carol Macpherson pictured in her shop Giant Kitten (Photo: Simon Hulme)

Carol Macpherson is a long-standing tenant of the Corn Exchange, opening her shop Giant Kitten six years ago after previously running another business in the centre.

She sells a collection of kitsch, kawaii and quirky goods, including vintage pieces imported from Japan, as well as bespoke prints.

“The building itself is beautiful," Carol said.

"If you’re a creative person, it’s an amazing place to work and it creates a community atmosphere for the tenants.

“It can be isolating being a small trader, so having that support between us is really nice.

“As the pandemic eased off, people came rushing back."

“It’s fantastic to see all the barriers have gone and this lovely new space has appeared," Carol added.

"I’m particularly pleased we’ve got trees outside - any little bit of nature we can bring into the city centre is so important."

Nearly 1,750 square metres of open space has been created outside the eye-catching building, with a plaza-style area that can host pop-up events.

Melissa is eyeing up the perfectly-smooth new surface for roller skating events.

She said: “Now that the stunning transformation is complete, I hope that the general public in Leeds can appreciate the space.

“We’ve been through so many dips and troughs and we’re proud to still be here and still be fighting.”