Stockport hasn't always been known as the most trendiest of places, but with the recent addition of a whole host of independents, the Northern town is giving others a run for their money.
Whenever I used to think of Stockport, not much came to mind.
Well, maybe the Hat Museum, where every school had at least one annual trip, and the Redrock after being dragged around by me mam on several occasions. But, believe it or not, Stockport is now being heralded as the brand-new “Soho of the North”.
Yeah, you heard me. The rightful home of hairy indie boys, Blossoms and famous Madchester recording studio, Strawberry Studios is now welcoming a plethora of independent businesses mainly centred around the Underbank.
The redevelopment of Stockport began around 2017, with the arrival of businesses including The Plant Shop, which is celebrating 5 years in the town this year. Owned by Emma Nosurak, the Plant Shop sells an array of gorgeous tropical plants to brighten up your living space, as well as sustainable and refillable skincare, cleaning products and other homeware pieces.
Nosurak decided to move to the area after noticing that Stockport had something about it, and was very reminiscent of places like York and Harrogate. She moved her life and business to the town and has never looked back, and she’s even in the process opening a new venture called Rare Finds which will sit further up on Middle Hillgate, selling handmade and rare homeware pieces, as well as coffee and bakes.
Another must visit if you’re heading down to Stockport soon is Underbank Studios, an art space run by Lily Windsor Walker, Luca Shaw and Heather Chambers. Underbank Studios champions local artists, running workshops and gallery previews out of their permanent studio on the Underbank.
They’ve created a safe space for collaboration and hold events throughout the year including Risocial with Roots Riso, a monthly risograph printing social event that involves drawing and making zines with other creatives.
They also host film nights including Gulp Film Night, an evening of cult films, niche genres and stunning visuals and exhibitions such as Lust, which is Underbank Studios’ group exhibition preview for all the lovers and lusters out there, curated by Shaw.
If you’re looking for some new clobber in the form of rare vintage finds, Top of the Town Vintage is the new kid on the Stockport block. Run by Sophia Rosemary, the store is full of hand-picked, luxury vintage items influenced by her love for 60s and 70s fashion and aesthetics.
Each pre-loved item is carefully hand picked, repaired, laundered and curated in collections by Sophia to make vintage shopping a breeze for fellow nostalgia lovers. You’ll find her shop on Lower Hillgate looking like a portal to a mini-skirt clad planet.
Rare Mags is also another one to add to the roster of Stockport’s quirky independent retail outlets to check out. The store specialises in hard to find and international magazine titles, along with a range of fiction and non-fiction books from a wide range of independent publishers. They’ve got books and mags on everything from cycling and gardening, to jazz cafes, baby food and skateboarding.
The shop also serves and sells specialist coffee and stationery, high quality pens and hosts exhibitions. It’s the perfect place to stroll around on a Sunday afternoon, clutching a coffee and choosing your new fave winter read.
Stockport is also known for its musical legacy, with bands such as 10cc and The Smiths once calling it home. Strawberry Studios, the studio where Manchester greats such as Joy Division, The Stone Roses, New Order and Inspiral Carpets recorded their albums, still sits at the top of Stockport’s Hillgate and the town has a couple of cracking record shops for you to explore the sounds of the city and beyond.
Firstly, SK1 Records has sat on Little Underbank for a few years now, and the independently owned businesses buys, sells and trades records, as well as selling coffee and treats for you to enjoy as you browse. They’ve got albums and singles from all of the big names, as well as from smaller, independent artists and host parties soundtracked by resident DJs.
Another place to check out if you’re wanting to expand your vinyl collection is All Night Flight Records. This store is another Staple of the Stockport record store scene, selling predominantly left-field, electronic, experimental, electronic and worldwide sounds.
All of this isn’t complete without a good place for you to wine and dine, right? And, of course Stockport offers a plethora of incredible food and drink places for you to indulge in.
Firstly, natural wine shop, Wine Boy has been providing Stockport’s wine lovers with obscure, natural, organic wines straight out of the market hall for a while now. The shop is open from 9.30am to 4.30pm, and they’ve also got a mint range of craft beers if wine isn’t your thing!
Another place to grab a great pint is Bakers Vaults. A traditional boozer and popular beer shrine, Bakers is renowned for its award-winning drink selection, great atmosphere and quirky jukebox that is raided by every music buff after a few too many. It’s located in the historic market place, just across the road from Wine Boy and the bar also has a beer garden, making it a perfect place to enjoy some summer sunshine.
Stockport lends itself perfectly to restaurants that offer something slightly different, too. Being a little out of Manchester, it naturally becomes a bit more underground and there are a few restaurants that also adopt this clandestine behaviour.
A Restaurant Where the Light Gets In is the first restaurant that springs to mind, and if you haven’t tried this gaff yet you’re truly missing out.
The restaurant works directly with farmers and fishermen from all over the isles to create a menu regulated by the seasons and its own creative touch. The food and drink on offer is conveyed to guests by the chefs, in the open plan restaurant and kitchen.
The restaurant holds only 30 guests, creating a very intimate dining experience that allows you to see the dishes being cooked right in front of you.
The team are also about to open a pottery studio and bakery just next door to Top of the Town Vintage on Lower Hillgate called Yellow Hammer. Expect pottery classes and a stunning range of hand baked goods at this place! A great lunch time stop off.
Keep your eyes peeled for Bistro Marc’s that is set to open in Stockport very soon, too! The iconic Winter’s building on Stockport’s Little Underbank is in the process of being transformed into a delightful French restaurant, which will be ready in early 2022.
Led by husband and wife co-owners – Chef, Marc Molé and Rachel Winter Jones, Business and PR Manager – Bistro Marc at Winter’s will be a cosy French bistro serving French favourites, with a focus on using fresh local produce from Stockport Indoor Markets and other local suppliers.
The restaurant and bar scene in Stockport is positively thriving at the moment, with other notable venues including rowdy music bar The Cracked Actor, The Good Rebel, The Produce Hall and Foodie Friday on the last Friday of every month, to name just a few.
I guess the final question is could Stockport really be the Soho of the North? And, honestly, I think it could even be better. The town champions independently run businesses, full of flair and creativity, something that designer-doused Soho is sorely lacking nowadays.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t squeeze every single Stockport small bizz into this article, and it’s a shame because it has so much more on offer!
But, if you’re looking for a change of scenery that’s only a 10 minute train ride out of the city centre, I’d highly recommend making the trip. There’s loads to see, eat and drink, and you can swan about the place like you’re in London if you like. Or, so they say.