Leeds’ Corn Exchange is ready for the retail of the future

Leeds’ Corn Exchange is ready for the retail of the future
Corn Exchange in Leeds, centre manager, Adam Warner. Picture Tony Johnson.

Corn Exchange in Leeds, centre manager, Adam Warner. Picture Tony Johnson.

From setting the agenda at meetings and pushing the retail force that is Leeds forward – to picking chewing gum up off the floor – it’s all in a day’s work at The Corn Exchange.

It is almost two years since it was taken over by Leeds-based property developer Rushbond PLC for an undisclosed sum.

The deal did raise eyebrows with fears over the future of the grade 1 listed building.

However, on the face of it not a huge deal has changed but, behind the scenes a plan is being put in place to make The Corn Exchange secure, viable and relevant in the changing face of modern retail.
Enter Adam Warner, the general manager.

After working on marketing and events before the take-over, Adam was kept on and is now responsible for the whole show.

He said: “People are delighted it is a local landlord and everybody is excited about the future of it.
“When they first bought it, they did not do much and took their time while they worked out a plan and a way forward for the space that people would love and that was commercially viable.”

But now eagle-eyed visitors will have noticed subtle changes to the building.

The doors to the units have been re-painted, the entrance hall has been revamped, the dome is lit at night and for the first time in its 170-year history, The Corn Exchange is fully wheelchair accessible.

Not a nine-to-five and covering “anything and everything”, you will find Adam cleaning toilets, picking chewing gum up off the steps, arranging tenancies, arranging events and attending steering group meetings with city business leaders.

Other than overseeing that, much of Adam’s work has also been re-establishing the position of The Corn Exchange within Leeds’ retail landscape – and to some extent, its reputation.

“I spent the first six months apologising for times gone by, answering the phone for the first time in five years is something people had not been used to and when I go to meetings and say, ‘I am from the Corn Exchange’ people say, ‘really?’”

The Corn Exchange is like a sleeping giant that is starting to wake up. Almost two centuries older than its counterparts in the city (Trinity Leeds and Victoria Gate) but its new approach to lets (the centre is almost full for the first time in years) is being led by industry and consumer demand.

“We are creating a community among our tenants that people want to be part of. We know we are the place for independent shopping in Leeds but we realise we are still on a journey as someone that champions innovation, technology and new business and that is coming in over the next couple of years.
“How does retail react to the modern world? It is all very well opening a building and putting independent businesses in but what is the next stage from that?”

One key is making retail an experience, besides just shopping. In the Corn Exchange that comes in the form of cult independents Humpit and Primo.

More recently, Christmas guest tenants, Release Records, have been staging gigs and DJ sets on the concourse.

Adam added: “It is alright getting people through the door but they will only return if you have something to offer – you can’t just be a shopping centre.”

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