This morning, both The Independent and The Times have stories about profits being down in Manchester’s gay village. Income has fallen by 20-25% they say.
This is not a surprise to me. Recently I found figures that suggest, since they began charging for entry, attendance at Manchester Pride has fallen to one quarter of what it was in 2002. And contrary to the ‘best-ever event’ hype that we see in the media each year afterwards.
Aw what a shame. Now, after ten years during which time the businesses abandoned their traditional loyal customer base in search of the biggest possible profits, finally the chickens are coming home to roost.
Neither article mentions that gay bars and clubs used to be a safe space that could be enjoyed by gay men and women of all ages. The pubs may have had curtains at the windows but, once inside, they were friendly and rather civilised. You never saw a fight and it was rare to see anyone really drunk and misbehaving.
Anyway, the ‘gay village’ has always been a commercial manufactured thing. Years ago, the bars and clubs were spread across the city centre — from Deansgate and Spring Gardens to Sackville Street. Despite what it says in The Independent, there were no gay bars actually on Canal Street until the early 1990’s (the entrance to the Rembrandt is on Sackville Street and the New Union is on Princess Street).
These days the area is threatening, unpleasant, cynical and aimed exclusively at the 18-30 age group who have a high disposable income and drink a lot. Everyone else has been driven out. There is no ‘community’ anymore and they should stop pretending this now-awful area is anything of the sort.
Even the bricks and mortar have been destroyed in the quest for profit. Old shop fronts have been ripped out to make way for takeaways or bigger bars, stonework has been removed from the front of the old warehouse buildings and the original cobbles are long gone. Controversial and tacky waste-of-money memorials have been put up in Sackville Park, when the cost could have been better spent actually helping people.
It’s not just the fact that we are now more-accepted at other places around Manchester and have other ways to meet people — such as the Internet. It is that we don’t like what the so-called gay village has been turned into by money-grabbing businesses and Manchester City Council.
Now The Rembrandt (which used to be a men-only bar) is to take the drastic step of banning hen parties. Unfortunately, the time to do that was ten years ago. Not now, just because your profits are down.
So what is the future? I think the outlook is bleak for the businesses down there. Gay men and women are going to continue voting with their feet and the over-30’s who, in the past, would have been customers for life, won’t ever return. As the area becomes increasingly ‘less gay’, there won’t be the novelty value, so the ‘non-gay’ customers won’t bother with that part of town anymore.