New shops and hotels are once more springing up in Chester. BARRY ELLAMS reports

WHEN Chester nets big fish Hotel Dragonfly and hooks Hotel Chocolat during a recession year you know the city hasn’t lost its lure.

Despite one of the toughest economic downturn’s in living memory in the final quarter of 2009, the city is emerging with some new and exciting private enterprises.

Building on the arrival of Cruise, Doubletree by Hilton, Oddfellows, Pizza Express, 1539 and HQ, a new list of distinguished attack brands are recruited to the city’s revival campaign.

Five-star Hotel Dragonfly has arrived in New Crane Street and Hotel Chocolat in Northgate Street, supporting Chester’s bid to encourage boutique businesses.

Hotel Dragonfly, like Chester’s Grosvenor Hotel and Spa, is five star, while Hotel Chocolat offers luxury chocolates. Their arrivals have suddenly made the pampering industry more competitive.

Chester’s simmering restaurant scene has also caught the nostrils of A-list chefs Marco Pierre White and Michael Caines, who are assembling their own signature restaurants in the city.

It is rumoured Jamie Oliver, who appeared at St Werburgh Street to launch Sainsbury’s Christmas campaign, is interested in Chester as well.

They would join the likes of Simon Radley at The Grosvenor, adding to an array of Michelin stars brightening up the culinary marketplace.

Marco Pierre White launches his Steakhouse, Bar & Grill at the Doubletree by Hilton Chester in January 2010 and Michael Caines’s restaurant at the Abode hotel opens next summer.

There is renewed vigour and optimism in the retail sector.

Large retailers are investing £5m in stores throughout the city in 2010 and many of the once-vacant shop units are bustling with trade.

At a large retail consortium meeting, the city’s big guns of the retail sector, including WHSmith, Marks & Spencer, Habitat, Browns of Chester and Republic, revealed they had fared better than forecast during the recession year.

Put simply, the shoppers are shopping again.

Chester’s city-centre stores have coped remarkably well during 2009 and are preparing to make significant investments next year.

City centre manager Stephen Wundke, who chaired the meeting, said: “We know that House of Fraser, Waitrose and Selfridge’s are desperate to move into Chester and with figures like these you can see why they want to be part of Chester’s shopping experience.”

Trendy and bohemian shops and cafes such as Republic, Chesca, Beau Perry, MilkShake Bars, Zugers coffee and Wombat clothing are setting a vibrant scene as Primark prepares to open its doors in Foregate Street in the spring.

Chris Brown, chief executive of Visit Chester and Cheshire, said: “Considering the difficult economic climate, it is extremely encouraging to see private-sector retail operators and accommodation providers expressing such confidence in Chester’s future potential.

“I’m confident that as economic conditions improve that we can anticipate further announcements of new investments.

Š“However, what now becomes critical is that we work together with the public sector to create new and improved infrastructure that will stimulate new demand for both existing and new product and, in so doing, create more reasons to visit, stay and return to Chester-Cheshire.

“We have been encouraged by the desire of the new authority to consider major investment that would particularly improve our cultural and event offer.”

He added: “If these positive ongoing discussions deliver, it will provide huge encouragement to not only our current businesses but also to those who may be considering coming to our area.”