Juliette Bains: Time for the Corn Exchange to party with the cool kids

Leeds Corn Exchange.
Leeds Corn Exchange.
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Have you ever been at a party and realised that everyone’s forgotten about you?

It might be that all your mates have hit the dance floor for a boogie, are trying for a drunken snog or simply raiding the fridge for party snacks.

Whatever the reason, while they’re off on their own little missions, there you are, awkwardly pretending to admire the decor and checking your phone whilst secretly plotting how to leave without being rude.

It’s something most of us can relate to, and as I passed the Corn Exchange the other day, it struck me that in the swinging soiree of Leeds’ retail scene right now, the building has become something of a wallflower.

The cool kids like Trinity Leeds, the Victoria Quarter and Briggate have been having fun, making plenty of new friends and having the time of their lives.

But while they’re off doing the metaphorical Macarena and reaching for the tequila, The Corn Exchange has been left to watch on from the sidelines, its glass almost empty while the nearby newbies steal all the limelight.

The Corn Exchange is a beautiful building and a place that’s close to the hearts of most Leeds folk, but that hasn’t been enough to sustain any real sense of momentum since its 2008 refurbishment.

Ask Loiners about the Corn Exchange and they’ll tell you all sorts of quirky stories about the old days, when it used to be home to mini markets, funky stalls and shops and was a mainstay of the Sunday afternoon trip into town.

But however quick you may be to declare your love for it, when was the last time you actually spent money there?

It’s sad to admit but it feels like it’s suffered an identity crisis somewhere along the way, floundering while it tries to find its niche.

It’s tried to fit in and be an eating destination, it’s had a go at hosting events and housing beauty boutiques and independent retailers.

But its desperate attempts to be one of the popular kids don’t seem to have paid off just yet and it’s become lost amongst the big dogs of the retail world.

Last time I visited, I had the sinking feeling it wasn’t being made the most of, with several empty units and a lack of visitors making the place almost completely silent.

It’s crying out for attention but it appears not many people are listening.

Ever since the closures of much-loved restaurants Anthony’s and Rib Shakk last year, the stunning landmark seems to be treading water, waiting for something to happen.

But hopefully, some new kids on the block could come to the rescue and give the Corn Exchange the much-deserved street cred it needs.

With the huge £150m Victoria Gate development coming along nicely, and Kirkgate Market about to get a multi-million pound revamp, there’s hope on the horizon that this little pocket of Leeds could be a ringleader of retail once more.

I also heard that Culture Vulture – the sort of cool, trendy shop that’s the perfect fit – is preparing to relocate there this weekend, opening on Saturday.

Not only that but it’s also bagged Red Bull as a new friend, playing host to the brand’s bass music competition next week.

Plus there’s plenty of little events such as salsa classes and record fairs to get involved with too.

With all the hubbub around the city centre of late, it’s about time the Corn Exchange stepped out from the shadow of its competitors.

Let’s hope that now it’s found some new friends, it’s ready to take its rightful place towards the front of the conga line.

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