DESPITE facing financial struggles and a lack of investment, Atherton's high street seems to have turned a corner in recent years - thanks to the gamble and persistence of independent business owners.

Across the borough, neighbouring areas such as Wigan, Tyldesley, and Ashton-in-Makerfield have acquired funding to spruce up their town centres, and even Leigh was (albeit unsuccessfully) put forward for a Levelling Up bid last year.

This has left Atherton as one of the borough's towns that has largely had to make do without external investment.

However, with a growing number of independent venues popping up along Market Street, it seems that local business owners and the town's tight community have helped jolt the high street - and particularly the night time economy - into action.

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Community helping 'underdog' town to thrive

Leigh Journal: The team behind the Cabinet bar and restaurantThe team behind the Cabinet bar and restaurant (Image: The Cabinet)

Opening at a similar time as the Cazbah and Curiosity, one of the first new independent venues to launch in Atherton town centre was The Cabinet, a family-run restaurant and cocktail bar opened on Church Street in late 2018.

Born and bred in Atherton, cousins Patrick and Kieran McLoughlin decided to take a punt on the Cabinet after growing tired of travelling to Manchester for a night out and feeling that the town was crying out for a different kind of venue. 

While it has been a struggle to navigate the stop-start difficulties of the pandemic and the "relentless" bills of the cost of living crisis, Patrick said the Cabinet has been able to attract people from far and wide because of its diverse offer of food, cocktails and live music.

Supported by the local community, the business owner said that what sets Atherton apart is the community that underpins it; who are determined to see the 'underdog' town thrive.

Leigh Journal: Sunday roasts at the CabinetSunday roasts at the Cabinet (Image: The Cabinet)

Patrick said: "One of the reasons why we opened the bar in Atherton is because we knew that although there is a small community here, everyone sticks together and supports one another.

"It's very community-led here and a lot of people are proud to be from the town. It actually feels like a bit of an underdog town compared to other areas, where everyone wants to support it and see it do well."

Leigh Journal: The Cabinet provide live music every weekendThe Cabinet provide live music every weekend (Image: The Cabinet)

High street a 'hell of a lot busier than it used to be'

After working in other bars around the town, Curtis Whitty and Chris Tomlinson also saw a gap in the market for a city-centre-style venue and launched the Plaza cocktail bar, after some pandemic delays, on Market Street in June 2021.

With customers travelling from across Greater Manchester to visit the venue, it is clear that the couple's decision to take a chance on Atherton has paid dividends - so much so that they are planning to open a second cocktail venue, to be named Society, just a few doors down.

Leigh Journal: Curtis and Chris behind the Plaza barCurtis and Chris behind the Plaza bar (Image: Leigh Journal)

Reflecting on their time in the town, Curtis said: "Business is busier than ever now, and I think we've really built our reputation up as a popular venue where people feel safe.

"The high street is a hell of a lot busier than it was two years ago, which is good considering the high street has had almost no investment.

"I think [the success] is down to having a great mix of independent venues for people to come and spend a night out.

Chris added: "It's our intention to live and work here so we want to make sure that we're doing the best we can to make the bar and area succeed, and we have good relationships with other businesses who are doing the same thing."

Leigh Journal: The Plaza cocktail bar, on Market StreetThe Plaza cocktail bar, on Market Street (Image: Leigh Journal)

While business has been going well for the Plaza owners, they suggested that things could be further improved if an investment was made to brighten up the high street and force landlords to improve their shop fronts.

A pedestrianised street to encourage outdoor drinking and al-fresco dining was also suggested as a way to entice customers and boost footfall in the night time economy.

High street succeeding on 'shoestring budget' - but things can be improved

Leigh Journal: Rachael and staff members at the SnugRachael and staff members at the Snug (Image: Leigh Journal)

Rachael Flaszczak, owner of the much-loved Snug Coffee House, agreed that these suggestions could enhance the high street in Atherton, and made the point that the area could be "even better" if public transport was improved.

With the Snug often attracting customers from Manchester and surrounding areas for its live music events, Rachael said that business has not returned to the same levels since the V2 bus, which drives right up to the centre of Market Street, was reduced from full capacity to a shuttle service.

And with Atherton train station a twenty-minute walk away, the business owner stressed that improvements in public transport are a necessity in order to attract customers from out of town with ease.

Leigh Journal: The Snug often attracts people from across the region for its live music eventsThe Snug often attracts people from across the region for its live music events (Image: The Snug)

However, despite these obstacles, Rachael said that things are "going in the right direction" in Atherton, which she says is down to the strong sense of pride that people have in the town, who desperately want to see it thrive.

"It's got that real community spirit in Atherton, where everyone looks out for each other", Rachael said.

"You can see this with things like Atherton Carnival, the Nativity parades, and our gigs here. 

"People feel so strongly about the town and we've been doing it all on a shoestring budget!"

Leigh Journal: The Snug Coffee House, tucked away on Market StreetThe Snug Coffee House, tucked away on Market Street (Image: Leigh Journal)

Mix of venues helping businesses grow despite cost of living crisis

Launching Carmen bar and Eatery as a tapas-style restaurant in June 2021, the business has had to "adapt to survive" during the cost of living crisis, and stop offering food because of the ever-increasing cost of food and utility bills.

It is the bar's "real cluster" of regulars that have kept the business going, owner Danielle Stotton said, as well as the proud community who come out to support the high street's growing number of venues.

Leigh Journal: Danielle Stotton, owner of Carmen Bar and EateryDanielle Stotton, owner of Carmen Bar and Eatery (Image: Danielle Stotton)

Danielle, who also owns the Lock Cocktail bar in Leigh, said: "Atherton's high street has started to become very busy, and it's absolutely rammed in here on a Saturday night.

"It can be very competitive on the high street, but I think that's healthy because it means you constantly have to offer something different, and there are multiple places that people can go to.

"We wouldn't be able to compete with big chains so I'm glad there's a good mix of independent venues here.

Leigh Journal: Carmen's cluster of regulars have helped keep business steadyCarmen's cluster of regulars have helped keep business steady (Image: Carmen Bar & Eatery)

She added: "Everyone from Atherton really cares about the town, from the bar owners to the independent councillors, and they all want it to improve.

"You can feel that with the carnivals, parades and window competitions, and I do think this makes the feel of the town much better."

Leigh Journal: Carmen Bar & Eatery, on Market StreetCarmen Bar & Eatery, on Market Street (Image: Leigh Journal)

'Major investment' needed to further boost local trade

In order to continue improving the town and its high street, independent councillor for Atherton North, Stuart Gerrard, agreed that bus services need to return to full capacity to attract more people into Atherton.

He also stated that "major investment" is a necessity to further boost trade, particularly in the day time economy, and explained that a local plan is currently being formulated with the council to address issues raised by the community.

Leigh Journal: Independent Network councillor for Atherton North, Stuart GerrardIndependent Network councillor for Atherton North, Stuart Gerrard (Image: Leigh Journal)

Cllr Gerrard said: "The businesses are right, we need a fully operational V2 to help bring patronage into the town day and night.

"The high street in the daytime is struggling due to a number of factors as are most town centres across the UK - we need major investment to help boost trade.

"We are currently working with council officers [on] formulating a local plan strategy to identify issues which will fully involve residents and businesses."

Leigh Journal: The Keely Hodgkinson mural on Church Street; a source of pride for the townThe Keely Hodgkinson mural on Church Street; a source of pride for the town (Image: Leigh Journal)