One of Birmingham’s leading fashion stores is set to close its “sartorial haven” in the Mailbox
Emporio Armani’s high profile international advertising campaigns have previously featured David and Victoria Beckham modelling together in their undies.
The company is part of the multi-layered Georgio Armani empire which also includes divisions like Armani Exchange – which itself quit the Bullring in May 2017.
After closing the Emporio shop in the Mailbox, it’s thought the parent business will concentrate on running various Armani concessions inside stores belonging to other traders such as Selfridges and Scotts in the Bullring
Level 1 furniture store Made.com – which was directly underneath Emporio Armani – has also today confirmed that it will not be reopening its Mailbox store in a statement below.
Meanwhile, although the government has announced it will hit shoppers with a £100 fine if they don’t wear a mask in shops from July 24, Harvey Nichols has yet to confirm when it will reopen its flagship store at the Mailbox.
The 45,000 sq ft site remains closed at the back of the giant mixed-use centre even though it’s now more than a month after Selfridges reopened with great confidence in the Bullring on June 15.
Harvey Nics has reopened stores in Knightsbridge, Edinburgh and Leeds, with Manchester next on August 1.
Bristol, Dublin, Birmingham and Liverpool all simply say ‘check back later for further information’ but there is nothing to suggest they will not reopen before long.
Emporio Armani’s decision to quit its position next to the Harvey Nichols entrance comes at another pivotal moment in the history of the Mailbox.
The site was taken over by new owners M7 in December 2019 in a deal thought to be worth £190 million.
With a million square feet of space across 4.5 acres, The Mailbox brands itself as Birmingham’s ‘Go to destination for style, dining and interiors’.
It has just been given the green light to reinvent itself for the second time in five years.
Subject to the work beginning within three years, planning permission was granted in May to convert the lower retail area (Level 1) into offices
The move would see ‘full height curtain wall glazing’ installed on the northern elevation (towards Broad Street) to provide daylight.
Closing shops on Level 1 would allow some businesses to move up to Level 2 where Emporio Armani is currently still trading.
A statement issued on behalf of the Mailbox said: “As part of a commercial process taken nationally, Emporio Armani is re-evaluating its portfolio and will be closing its store in Birmingham.
“Harvey Nichols is reopening its regional stores on a phased basis over the coming months and we will update customers on the Birmingham store as soon as possible.
“We are currently in advanced conversations with a number of new occupiers for Autumn opening, with particularly strong interest from food and beverage brands looking to have a presence at the Mailbox, and we look forward to sharing news on these soon.”
In March, BirminghamLive detailed the latest ambitious plans for Mailbox – conceived before Covid-19 – to convert the lower retail level into office spaces.
The idea was that some retailers could then move upstairs to keep the lounge level full.
Consultations regarding the planning application began with Level 1 retailers in January.
Some are said to have decided to relocate to Level 2 but BirminghamLive has not been given a list.
The Mailbox statement added: “As one of the largest mixed-use developments in the UK, the plans are designed to ensure that the Mailbox is as successful and vibrant as possible for office occupiers, leisure and retail brands, and that it is responsive to the changing needs of this prominent city centre location.”
BirminghamLive has also asked for a full list of retailers that will not be returning after Covid-19.
Furniture store Made.com, for example, has not reopened on the lower level.
No comment has been made on social media and the Made.com website now only lists showrooms in London and West Yorkshire.
But, in a statement, the company told us: “As we navigate these uncertain times, we’re continuing to do all we can to keep our staff and customers safe.
“Whilst our other showrooms will be reopening soon, the owners of The Mailbox, where our Birmingham showroom is located, have unfortunately decided to close the space.
“Customers in and around Birmingham can still shop online at Made.com and we’re working hard to ensure deliveries continue as normal in all regions of the UK.”
The last time the Mailbox posted a note on Facebook about its stores reopening was on June 15 – and that referred to its June 10 website update about shops reopening when no mention was made of Harvey Nichols or Made.com
The list of companies on Level 1 of the Mailbox in March included Made.com homeware, Heal’s furniture, The Wedding Club bridalwear, Ribbles Cycles, Calligaris Italian furniture store, BoConcept furniture, Fine & Country estate agents, Harvey Jones kitchens, iLite Lighting, Kitchen Gallery, Sofas & Stuff and Pall Mall Barbers.
In the Spring of 2019, Castle Fine Art already relocated from Level 1 to a commanding Level 2 position at the front left of the building as you look from outside the main steps.
All but essential shops in Birmingham were closed by the government lockdown from June 23 until Sunday, June 14.
Selfridges was at the forefront of the Bullring’s decision to reopen from Monday, June 15 when store manager and Retail BID Birmingham chair Mrs Sam Watson personally greeted every returning customer.
But not everyone has come back.
Cafe Rouge announced on July 2 that it was closing its Mailbox site overlooking the canal network where other nearby businesses like Côte Brasserie and Red Peppers have yet to reopen.
On the July 4 date dubbed ‘Super Saturday’, pubs and restaurants began to reopen as lockdown restrictions were eased but only one in four businesses in Southside felt ready to reopen on that date and John Lewis noticeably remained closed in Grand Central
On Thursday July 9, John Lewis announced that its Grand Central flagship was one of eight stores to close permanently nationwide – even though the site above the busy New Street Station opened less than five years ago on September 24, 2015.
The giant building on Suffolk Street Queensway was originally a Royal Mail sorting centre, hence its Mailbox name and striking red frontage.
In 2000 the building began to open in phases as a mixed use centre – part residential, part retail and part business.
A Malmaison Hotel opened at the front of the building in late 2002 and in June 2004 the BBC downsized into the rear having decided to quit its famous BBC Pebble Mill studios which had opened in 1971.
The open-plan nature of the original central shopping element made it noisy in the evenings for people living in the flats above and cold for shoppers in the winter months.
A £50 million redevelopment in 2015 saw the retail side go upmarket with the launch of a central lounge area which included a deli bar and piano all under a striking new roof.
The latest plans will see the site’s number of 72 cycle bays remaining as capacity is currently running at around 50 per cent.
They have been approved after the city council’s Design Officer felt the changes would “enhance the building by modernising it appropriately and improving the functionality of it too.”
Even before businesses were being hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the centre had a degree of flux.
Restaurant names like Paris and Strada came and went over the years and Harvey Nichols used the last remodelling to move from the front of the Mailbox to a much larger, grander unit at the back which opened on July 31, 2015
But the Tom’s Kitchen restaurant announced on May 30 last year that it was pulling out and that unit has remained closed ever since on the opposite side of Level 2 to Emporio Armani.
Everything that seemed to be a good idea in Birmingham during the later months of 2015 when Grand Central and the ill-fated John Lewis store also opened is now being challenged again less than five years later.
Nothing ever seems to stay the same in Birmingham for long – even when its future seems to have been set in reinforced concrete.
The original Bull Ring Shopping Centre, which inspired similar developments around the world as well as in towns like Blackburn, was opened in May 1964 by the Duke of Edinburgh.
But by the turn of the century it was being mercilessly demolished ready to be replaced by the Bullring from September 4, 2003.
Although the Mailbox had a three-year head start, the Bullring’s subsequent success has centralised shopping in a city now seemingly riddled with over capacity.
The Pavilions on High Street opened in 1987 and survived one major mind-term structural remodelling before closing in 2016 after 29 years.
The site was then totally gutted before reopening as the the world’s biggest Primark on April 11, 2019.
But Primark’s original three-floor, 40,000 square foot store remains closed on New Street, where one in five units were empty or not trading at the beginning of the last German Market in November, 2019.
The City Plaza shopping centre opened off Cannon Street in 1989 and was home to retailers including Jaeger. But it never fully took off and was given a £2.5 million office facelift after being sold for £26 million in 2006.
The Minories has also become marginalised in recent years by the demise of Bull Street and Priory Queensway as shopping areas of note.
The struggling Square Shopping Centre between Priory Queensway and Bull Street has been earmarked for redevelopment while most units have left Martineau place even closer to the heart of the city centre.
The giant WHSmith on High Street closed down in March 2018 and moved into the small Union Street end of the former BHS, but its former store remains an empty shell.
The former Habitat turned into a Morrisons and then a My Local at the top of New Street, but has lain empty for four years.
Although independents continue to trade on Stephenson Street and in the Piccadilly and Great Western Arcades, the North Western Arcade and Union Arcade are both pale shadows of their former selves.
Earlier this year most of Smallbrook Queensway’s Southside row of shops was boarded up for redevelopment.
Back at the Mailbox, the giant AXIS office block next door is facing demolition pending redevelopment of the Holliday Street site.
In that context, the Mailbox plans to create more office space might be ambitious.
At least they are being designed to house more workers inside the building ready to spend more money on the local shops.
After the way Covid-19 has seen so many people suddenly working from home instead of in offices, with even the BBC cutting jobs and with the city’s ever-changing retail history such as it is, it will be interesting to see not just how Phase 3 transforms the Mailbox again… but how long it lasts, too.