If you’re looking for independent and quirky shops, steer clear of the Arndale Centre and head straight for Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Frequently included in lists of Europe’s hippest neighbourhoods, this labyrinth of side streets and back alleys is home to many of the city’s best clothing, design and music stores. There’s a diverse array of shops to discover, but here are our absolute favourites.
Conveniently located right next door to Retro Rehab, Rockers is the place to head for rock ‘n’ roll lovers. Don’t be put off by their niche window displays; even those with just a passing interest in 1950’s style and culture are welcome here, with slogan T-shirts and tote bags available for those who aren’t convinced by wiggle dresses and creepers. Embrace the look by opting for a colourful petticoat or vintage leather jacket, or simply go for a cool patch to sew onto a bag.
Boasting Manchester’s best collection of independent magazines and design books, Magma is often filled with fashion students or well-read locals seeking inspiration. The diverse range of titles includes magazines dedicated to slow living, avant-garde fashion, cycling, outdoor adventures and travel, with big names such as Kinfolk and Purple sitting alongside new discoveries. Most of the store is dedicated to print publications, although there is also a carefully curated collection of gifts, cards and stationary on display.
Anyone who grew up in Manchester probably spent a good proportion of their teenage years wandering around Afflecks (formally known as Affleck’s Palace). Since its opening in 1981, this warren of independent shops is a perfect alternative to high street shopping in the city, offering everything from rubber jumpsuits to rave gear. Yes, there will always be that side of Afflecks (you’ll also find condoms and sex toys), but there really is something for everyone if you take the time to browse its multitude of market stalls. The iconic bead shop, various vintage stalls, antique brick-a-brack shops and (of course) Ginger’s ice-cream parlour are all worth seeking out.
Originally opening its doors in Leeds (alongside a successful wholesale business), Blue Rinse also calls Manchester’s Oldham Street home. Rather than simply flogging foraged vintage gems, Blue Rinse go one step further and create wearable, contemporary clothes using vintage material and reworked garments. Think 1980s jeans hacked off into hot-pants and ill-fitting dresses transformed into flattering nineties-inspired slips. Catering to both men and women, the emphasis is on styles from the last two decades of the 20th Century with a focus on American casual wear. Head here for denim, checked shirts, sports jackets and floral frocks.
This beloved family-run store has been a destination in the Northern Quarter for over one hundred years, providing art supplies for Manchester’s creative residents. The store is now cavernous, with the upstairs focusing primarily on stationary and gifts, whilst the downstairs contains the city’s largest collection of arts and crafts paraphernalia. Even if you’re not particularly crafty, it’s a treasure trove to explore, and taking your picture in the photo-booth makes a great memento of your day.
There are many record shops in the Northern Quarter, but Piccadilly Records is a Manchester institution that should be at the top of your list. Frequently named as one of the best independent record shops in the entire world, the store offers a wide variety of both new releases and classic albums on vinyl and CD. Showcasing music from genres as diverse as indie, disco and psych, most music fans will find it difficult to walk out without making a purchase. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, have a chat with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, who are more than happy to offer advice and recommend the latest releases by their favourite local bands.
Half hip café, half hip design store, Fig + Sparrow may have only been around for a few years compared to the Northern Quarter heavyweights that surround it, but it’s one of Oldham Street’s most beloved stores. In summer, the crowded outdoor tables may lull you into thinking that it is simply a café, but inside you will discover a myriad of carefully selected items for your home or for gifts. It’s also one of the best places in the area to find greetings cards and wrapping paper.
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The CFCCA showcases a rotating series of exhibitions that celebrate Chinese contemporary arts and culture, providing a platform for emerging artists to display their work for the first time in the UK. Alongside the two gallery spaces, the gift shop stands alone as a place to discover prints, photographs, textiles, books and accessories that you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
If you’re looking for locally crafted ceramics, prints, jewellery or art work, Manchester Craft and Design Centre is the perfect place to discover something unusual. Located in a former Victorian fish market, the beautifully restored building is home to two floors of studios, where artists, potters and craftspeople create and sell their work in one space. There’s also a great café on the ground floor and you can often discover interesting art installations or musical performances there.
This Manchester menswear store has proved so popular over the years that it has now opened another shop in Soho, proving that Manchester is a fashion-forward city in its own right. Located on Thomas Street, in the heart of the Northern Quarter, Oi Polloi offers a sanctuary to the local hipsters, while also accommodating any man looking for well made, well designed garments. The emphasis is on casualwear, with plenty of shirts, jumpers, jackets, jeans and trainers on display for those who like to relax and spend time outdoors. Brands such as Folk, Y.M.C, Penfield, Rains and Barbour sit alongside undiscovered gems, carefully picked out by their expert buying team.
One of the most iconic (and the longest standing) vintage shops in the Northern Quarter, Pop Boutique is much more than a place to browse retro clothes. Situated over two levels with a small yet popular café housed within its doorway, Pop offers everything from vintage dresses to home accessories. You’ll find everything that you need to live and breathe a retro lifestyle here, allowing you to dress head-to-toe in 1950s and 60s clothes, decorate your home with mid-century modern furnishings and even get yourself a retro ‘do’ at Barbarella hair salon.
One of the city’s most beloved vintage stores, Retro Rehab has been located at the top of Oldham Street for many years, boasting bulging rails of vintage and reworked dresses and accessories. This is the place to head to if you’re looking for something a little different, particularly if you have a penchant for dresses from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. You’ll also find jackets, skirts, tops and knitwear to browse, depending on the season.