What future for the “ghost town” shopping centre?

As supermarket giant Lidl prepares to leave a “forgotten” arcade in the middle of a city center, fears are growing for its future.

Journalist Cara Simmonds asks “what’s next?” after a visit to the Broadway shopping center in Maidstone…

The Broadway Shopping Center in Maidstone

I feel like I’m in a ghost town when I walk into The Broadway.

German discount chain Lidl has yet to leave the Maidstone shopping arcade over the town’s high street bridge, but it already looks eerily empty.

The building looks like something straight out of the 70s and the outdated cream and brown tiles and glass domed ceiling inside the center make it feel trapped in the past.

The large unit that once housed Matalan, and once drew a flurry of customers, now has its metal shutters down, with Lidl the only last major brand standing.

Even the supermarket doesn’t seem to attract tons of people, as I rarely saw another person when I visited.

The unit inside the center once housed Matalan
The unit inside the center once housed Matalan

Construction of the new Lidl store, next to DIY retailer Wickes, just 500 meters on Rue Saint-Pierre, has now started and is expected to open this winter.

When the plans were initially approved, Lidl spokesman Adam Forsdick told advisers that the existing store at The Broadway did not offer “the most modern customer experience”.

The announcement raises questions about the future of the once busy mall.

Lidl is the third store to leave the building, with commercial retailer Matalan moving to The Mall in September 2020.

In 2006, the center housed the Profiles for Women gymnasium.

Many outdoor units closed
Many outdoor units closed

Employees came to work to find the gym had suddenly closed and were forced to say goodbye to customers via a poster taped to the doors.

It looks like history has repeated itself, as the Tru Gym franchise – which occupied the same unit where Profiles once stood – also unexpectedly closed for good in May of this year.

Other closed units include one occupied by ibodi, an aesthetic clinic and the Maidstone Yoga Center which has moved to Gabriels Hill.

The center has a number of small businesses on the ground floor: a tanning salon, electrical retailer Euronics, hairdressers and a kitchen shop.

A hairstylist from Carpenters Hair says big stores attract customers. She said: “Lidl has lots of great deals which makes the area busier.

Maidstone Yoga Center had closed and moved to Gabriel's Hill (58927758)
Maidstone Yoga Center had closed and moved to Gabriel’s Hill (58927758)

“We have lots of regulars who come, they are interested because they have free parking, unlike downtown.

“Some of our older customers like that they can either be dropped off in the parking lot or picked up from the nearby bus stop.

“A lot of them don’t want to go to town and prefer us to be located here.”

She added: ‘We do get appointments, usually people have had a tan on the sunbeds and then come to us for their hair.

“I really think that will change once Lidl is gone.

Lidl supermarket inside the Broadway shopping center, in 2011
Lidl supermarket inside the Broadway shopping center, in 2011

“The mall has changed so much that I can’t keep up.”

Emma, ​​a designer from Appliance Superstore, said: “I’m from Gravesend so from an outside perspective this area is the quieter part of Maidstone.

“The main street – with the escape room – is hip and cool.

“While here, in this part of town, you feel forgotten and abandoned. It’s quite sad.”

Even before the big retailers started moving, Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) planning officers suggested turning the site into housing.

“Here in this part of town, you feel forgotten and abandoned. It’s really sad’

In 2019, plans were proposed for the site to be transformed into 281 apartments, with the construction of an imposing 15-storey tower.

Nearly 5,000 protesters signed an online petition to stop the development and it was rejected by councilors in November of that year.

And now ?

Cllr Paul Cooper, senior member for planning and infrastructure at the council said: ‘We are not aware of any planning applications or pre-applications for the Lidl in the Broadway shopping center at this time.

“Therefore, we are aware that the site may need to be redeveloped at some point in the future and due to the location, we appreciate the impact this would have on the area.

Councilor Paul Cooper
Councilor Paul Cooper

“At this stage, we would work with the landowner to ensure that any new development meets the approval of local residents before work begins.”

For now, the future of the building remains uncertain.

What future for the “ghost town” shopping centre?

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