TRADERS are hoping new retailers will help return Durham city centre to its "vibrant best".

Discount department store TJ Hughes is set to open in the flagship unit of the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre today, while the former Marks and Spencers unit, which has been empty for more than a year, will be occupied again shortly.

Richard Toynbee, manager of the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre, said the Liverpool-based department shop was a valuable addition to the city centre.

He said: “We are delighted to welcome TJ Hughes - they are a valuable addition to the city centre. The store is packed with brands and products new to Prince Bishops which is great for Durham shoppers.

The Northern Echo:

TJ Hughes is opening today at the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre

“It’s no secret that retail has been going through a tough period and many town and city centres are seeing rapid change – Durham is very resilient with an exciting mix of shops, eateries and attractions which is why an established national retailer such as TJ Hughes has chosen Durham for a flagship store.

“Our customers will notice we have also started work to upgrade the car park and we’ll be announcing some more exciting new occupiers soon.

"This is all very positive for the future prosperity of the city centre.”

Meanwhile, rumoured plans of M&Co opening in the former Marks and Spencers store in Silver Street are also coming to to fruition.

In May, a spokesperson for the store confirmed the company was looking for new premises in the city and signs have now appeared at the former M&S – which has been empty since April 2018.

The Northern Echo:

M&Co is set to open in Silver Street next month

An M&Co spokesperson said the shop was expected to open in August but a date is yet to be confirmed.

Colin Wilkes, manager of Durham Markets, who has been working to try and encourage more people to come to the city, said: "I think it's great retailers are now starting to come back into the city centre and see it is a positive place to be and come to.

"We welcome them and we welcome the competition and hope any other empty units get filled up as well so the city centre can return to its previous vibrant best, offering a wide range of choice to people, from niche independents to nationals."

He has been putting on a range of events to try and attract families to Durham, with further ones planned for August 2 and 9.

He added: "I think events are the way forward because people need a reason to come in over and above shopping. It used to be the primary reason people came to town, now it's incidental.

"It's great we have the Odeon now to attract families but we still need others reasons for families to come in.

The Northern Echo:

Colin Wilkes, manager of Durham Markets

"We need to try and get experiences for people to enjoy.

"It doesn't always have to be an expensive event. A lot of smaller events that don't cost a lot to put on can be equally attractive."

This week has also seen the opening of a pop-up food and drink shop, aimed at promoting producers from County Durham.

It is currently featuring The Tea Enthusiasts, Cake Ninja, Wiga Wagaa, Sanction Gin and Honeypot Bakery and will showcase other businesses in the coming months.