Ideas to address a void in the early-evening city centre economy are being sought by council and business leaders.
They claim that most of the city centre’s 20,000 workers drain out of the city at 5pm, and don’t return until its time for work the next morning.
Those who do return are only going in late at night, reducing the money businesses can make.
Research from the Preston Business Improvement District (BID) in partnership with UCLan said the shift is in line with national trends, and claim city centre bars and restaurants are being hit by people ‘pre-loading’ at home on cheap supermarket alcohol and later venue opening hours.
But Barry Hastewell, owner of Tens Cafe Bar and Restaurant in Lune Street, said he has been forced to apply for a later licence because the night time economy is so bad.
He said: “Anyone claiming to be doing well with an evening business in the city centre is telling porkies.
“It’s terrible, abysmal. We’re just about wiping our noses.
“I didn’t really want to apply to extend the licences until 5am, but people now don’t go out until 10pm or 11pm, and it’s leaving us with a very narrow window of opportunity to make any money. So the later hours is our only option now, I’ve had to give in. I’m thinking of maybe opening an hour later than we currently do to offset the wages.”
He added: “The light at the end of the tunnel is the prospect of getting a casino opening, the Guild Hall takeover, and possibly a new restaurant in Fox Street.”
Town Centre Councillor Drew Gale, has been leading a project called Preston After Hours, in his position as chair of the Communities Scrutiny Panel. He said: “If you go to Preston city centre after 5pm, then there’s really only drinking down Church Street. That has a place - a big place - in our economy, but we can put on so much more for people.
“We need to get people coming in during that gap between people leaving work and when people are going to the bars and clubs at 10 or 11pm.
“We want something for everyone - we need restaurants, theatre, an outdoor cinema on the Flag Market, and I hope that the Guild Hall can be the beacon for this kind of thing. I want to get a symposium together of business leaders, all sharing their ideas, because if the city benefits, everyone benefits.”
Coun Gale is already working to set up new events that will increase the footfall in the area in the early evening.
Preston Comic Con has been arranged for October 25, and he also wants to arrange a networking ‘hangout’ for venue owners and musical artists, to promote mainstream music.
He said: “Places like the Mad Ferret and the Continental do well for the alternative music scene, but we don’t really have anything for the mainstream. We need to look at what can be done.
“I’m sick of Preston being referred to as the North West’s third city. It’s rubbish, let’s make it the first city.”
Mark Whittle from BID believes events to encourage evening trade such as Prestfest are already working.
He said: “Pleasingly, BID’s Annual General Public Survey of 1,000 Preston visitors of all ages shows 70 per cent of respondents rated Preston’s hospitality offer as very good or good. BID has introduced a variety of campaigns to attract the early evening visitor, Prestfest and Love Food Love Preston being just two of them.”
“We are also working closely with the city retail forum and key early evening and night time economy to look at a package to encourage early evening visitors.”