Something is stirring in sleepy Penwortham.
And it is creating a town to go to, not just go through.
A frothy new micro-pub was born on Friday, just over the road from a classy wine bar which opened last summer.
Further along plans are in with the council for a new restaurant/cafe – not far from a coffee shop which is also relatively new to the high street.
The old Booths store and its adjacent Lloyds Bank have both been sold in recent weeks after standing empty for an eternity.
And across the way the site has now been cleared for the giant 24-hour Tesco superstore, which it is hoped will attract thousands to stop in Penwortham, rather than drive straight past.
Penwortham is coming back to life and that’s got to be good.
“It’s all positive,” said the Mayor Coun Jim Patten. “Penwortham is coming back to life and that’s got to be good.”
The arrival of Tap and Vine yesterday is seen as the latest vote of confidence in a town which, for a long time, only had one pub on the main road.
Instead of being an unwanted rival for the Lime Bar – opened last July – the latest newcomer is being welcomed with open arms.
“I think it will do us good having another venue across the road,” said Lime Bar owner Carol Rialas.
“We want Penwortham to become a destination for people, somewhere they come and stay all evening, rather than just having a quick drink and then getting a taxi into Preston.”
Tap and Vine owner Debbie Colles agreed. “We intend to work together as a community, not as competition. I have spoken to Carol and they are working with us.
“Theirs is a different concept to us. But we compliment each other.
“Sylvia and Paul at the BonBon coffee shop across the road are great too. We are all working as a team to give people a real choice and a real reason to stay here instead of jumping on the bus and heading into town.”
The future success of main road businesses could hinge on a £17.5m bypass project which is intended to take up to 70 per cent of traffic away from the town centre and make it more pedestrian friendly.
Work has already started, although it could be January 2020 before the benefits are felt in Penwortham itself.
“I have grown up in Penwortham and I remember the Liverpool Road area used to have shops like fishmongers, butchers and greengrocers,” said the Mayor.
“They have all migrated out of town and there is now a switch to a more night-time and leisure economy here.
“I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. It’s better than empty shops.”
The impending arrival of a giant 24-hour supermarket at the junction of Liverpool Road and Cop Lane has sparked some controversy. But some feel it will be a positive, rather than a negative, for small shops in the town.
Coun David Howarth, who sits on all three councils serving Penwortham – parish, district and county – is one of those who thinks the Tesco store could benefit everyone.
“A lot of people think it is going to hit the local shops, but it could well have the opposite effect,” he said.
The old Booths store and the former Lloyds Bank next door both have new owners, although the identity of the buyers have yet to be revealed.
Before the bank sale a planning application for two shop units was submittted to South Ribble Council. The old supermarket has been recommended as ideal for three shop units.
The £17.5m new road is expected to free up Penwortham town centre which, especially at rush hour, can be choked with traffic crawling through.
Estimates say it could reduce the number of vehicles by up to 70 per cent, allowing planners to make more of the pedestrian areas alongside Liverpool Road.
Work has already started on a road which will give vehicles a detour around Penwortham from the A59 at Howick to the Broadoak roundabout near the Brown Hare pub.
“Once the bypass is completed it will reduce the through traffic and then we could maybe do something to expand the pavements,” said the town’s mayor, Coun Jim Patten.
The Tesco effect
Penwortham once had its fair share of empty shops, now only two dominate the street scene in Liverpool Road.
And both the old Booths store and the former Lloyds Bank building, which stand side by side near the junction with Priory Lane, have recently been snapped up, regardless of the impending arrival of a giant 24-hour Tesco store across the road.
Local councillor David Howarth believes the sales are as a result of the supermarket project, rather than in spite of it.
“I have always been of the opinion that when Tesco is up and running those empty shops - Booths has been empty for years - will get snapped up,” said Coun Howarth.
“That’s exactly what happened in Leyland with Hough Lane when Tesco opened there. “Businesses couldn’t snap them up quickly enough. And now the same has just happened in Penwortham.
“A lot of people say it’s going to hit the other shops, but very possibly it could have the opposite effect with people parking at Tesco and using the other shops and businesses.”
Penwortham Mayor Coun Jim Patten added: “Although there are some people against it (Tesco) and think it will take away from the shops already here, I think it will attract a lot of people from out of town to do their shopping in Penwortham, possibly with a spin-off for the smaller businesses.
“We are desperately short of parking in Liverpool Road and Tesco will allow shoppers to park there for a time.
“So that has got to be a positive.”
‘The new Lytham’
The opening of the Tap and Vine micropub on Friday could be seen as unwelcome competition for neighbours in the licensed trade.
But Lime Bar owner Carol Rialas has rolled out the welcome mat saying: “It will help Penwortham become a destination venue.”
Both bars are looking to work closely together to boost the town’s appeal to drinkers and diners from further afield.
Tap and Vine owner Debbie Colles admitted: “People have been calling it ‘the new Lytham’ and there are a lot of worse places to be compared with.
“What we offer is choice. We want to work with the other businesses and become a local community.
“I have spoken to Carol across the road. They are a different concept to us and I would like to think we compliment each other.
“I hope we can all work as a team to attract people into Penwortham for a night out and not just a stop on the way into Preston.”
Carol, whose bar will be a year old in July, admitted the first eight months on Liverpool Road had been “brilliant.” There are now plans to improve the outside seating area in time for summer.
“We have done amazingly,” she said. “Our customers are a nice client base. We are listening to what they want - you don’t always get it right first time.
“I think Penwortham needed something like the Lime Bar because the only place to go for a drink was the Fleece. Now people can get freshly made cocktails, tapas dishes, we have 45 gins, 80 wines and 12 Champagnes.
“We have totally gone high end, but at an affordable price. We regularly get customers coming here from areas like Fulwood and Tarleton.
“I’ve been used to working in cities where the competition has been keen. And I think having a bar over the road will do us good. It will mean more people who come here will stay here for the evening.”