North Wales’s population is older than the national average but one adventurous shopping centre has set out to rejuvenate the area’s retail mix.
The caricature of retailing in north Wales seaside towns is that it’s all about the old. The 30-mile coastal strip from Prestatyn in the east, through Rhyl, Abergele, Colwyn Bay and Rhos-on-Sea to Llandudno in the west, has been dubbed the Costa Geriatrica.

Statistics show that there is some truth behind the region’s image as a favourite retirement destination for north-west inhabitants. While nationally around 18% of the population are of retirement age or older, in Wales the figure rises to 20%. And in parts of north Wales it exceeds 25%. From the property industry’s perspective, the danger is that the north Wales coastal retail scene will simply fossilise.

The retail hub of north Wales is, perhaps perversely, the English city of Chester. The town’s Grosvenor shopping centre continues to attract big names – latest arrivals include Episode, Gieves & Hawkes and Satori. In Wales itself, the retail market is mixed. While Bangor and Llandudno’s Mostyn Street sweep all before them, rivals such as Colwyn Bay and Rhyl are having a bumpier ride. Wrexham ought to be more powerful than it is, but suffers from its proximity to Chester and from long-term delays in completing a major town-centre redevelopment.

Flintshire – which nestles close to the English border – is, for most purposes, an extension of Cheshire. It has a fairly young and economically active population. Unemployment, at around 3.6%, is well below the Welsh average of 5.3%.

The area boasts some major employers, including the British Aerospace factory at Broughton. Although the plant is four miles inside the Welsh border, its location is generally referred to as a Chester suburb – a source of some dismay in Flintshire.

Meanwhile, key retailers are still queuing up for Flintshire locations. Rumour has it that Sainsbury’s is about to unveil plans for a superstore in Flint.

Delwyn Evans, spokesman for Flintshire County Council, says: ‘An ageing population is not an issue for us in this county. But as you move west from Prestatyn, things begin to change.’ This change presents both a challenge and an opportunity to landlords and developers such as Modus Properties, recent purchaser of the 8,360 sq m (90,000 sq ft) Colwyn Centre in Colwyn Bay.

The north-west-based company paid around £8.9m for the centre, which is anchored by Safeway and the usual household names, such as Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Thorntons. Modus’s aim is to extend the centre and perk up its performance by broadening its appeal beyond the bungalow-dwelling old folk of the north Wales coast.

Managing director Brendan Flood says: ‘We think the choice could be extended at the Colwyn Centre. It has a loyal catchment, but so far the centre hasn’t made use of its proximity to the A55 north Wales expressway going straight down the coast. We want to promote it as a sub-regional centre.’ Modus plans to inject around £9m into the centre to create a 6,500 sq m (70,000 sq ft) extension. The idea is to build on existing loyalties by appealing to customers prepared to endure a journey time of up to 20 minutes. The aim is to boost its weekly 25,000-strong footfall by as much as 30%.

‘That is going to mean attracting a lot of holiday traffic. Today, midweek, the centre’s customers are mostly mums and retired people. We have enough attractions there to keep the existing shoppers, but we want a bigger critical mass of customers,’ says Flood.

Existing traders report profits at healthy enough levels. But increased earnings for Modus depend on a wider retail offer – and that wider choice requires a wider customer base. Hence, the sub-regional appeal.

North Wales retailing has never been known for its daring. Its virtue is its stability. Mixing the two – as Modus looks set to do – will prove an interesting test of the region’s capacities and its potential for retail growth.