Page last updated at 04:01 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 05:01 UK

City's 500m retail emporium unveiled

Dave Harvey
Consumer and Business Correspondent, BBC West

After 20 years of planning and three years to build, Bristol's 500m Cabot Circus shopping centre promises 140 new stores for shopaholics, but only 100 will be ready for opening day.


The BBC got access just 40 hours before the centre is due to open

With a day to go, every street was heaving with cherry pickers, concrete mixers and builders, as the clock counted down to the opening of the centre.

The flagship of the new development is Harvey Nichols, which is taking three floors of a new tower on the corner of Castle Park.

The store opens later and promises the ultimate designer shopping experience. T-shirts at 100, dresses for 1,000, and, the priciest item instore, an Alligator Clutch bag, by Kara Ross, at 3,170.

It's undoubtedly expensive. But there are those who say Harvey Nichols will spread ripples of wealth across Bristol.

It's amazing how much you can do in the last 40 hours. An overnight crew can do a lot of shopfitting, glazing, fitting out
Ray Brown, Cabot Circus construction manager

"Harvey Nichols can really transform a city, it's an iconic brand, and it attracts others," says Natalie Strachan, who works in Birmingham's Mailbox shopping centre, where Harvey Nichols opened in 2001.

"Since they opened here, we've had several other designer brands come to the city. And our loyalty programme has grown tenfold since they increased the size of their store by 30% this year."

And the 'Harvey Nicks effect' can be bigger than just retail therapy for a tired city. The store is credited with turning around the grey, industrial image of the Midlands too.

"It's all about perception", says Alun Thorne, Business Editor on the Birmingham Post newspaper.

"Birmingham used to be a grey blot on the landscape you drove past on the M6. Now it's got the country's most aspirational store - and handbags to die for!"

'Clean and smart'

Will Harvey Nichols have the same effect in Bristol? There is plenty of money here; in the UK, only London produces more wealth per head than Bristol. But opening, of course, as the credit crunch bites is never going to be easy.

Meanwhile across the road, they're pulling out all the stops. On Tuesday lunchtime, I squeezed past big cherry pickers, concrete mixers, pneumatic drills. But the man in charge was positive.

"It's amazing how much you can do in the last 40 hours", says Ray Brown, construction manager at Cabot Circus, who claims he has seen it all happen in time before.

"An overnight crew can do a lot of shopfitting, glazing, fitting out. Some stores won't make the cut, but we'll put up hoardings for them and it will all look clean and smart."

Jobs fair at Cabot Circus
06 Jun 08 |  England
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26 Feb 07 |  Bristol/Somerset
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08 Mar 08 |  Bristol/Somerset

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