Monday, 4 May 2009

Oklahoma - Northern Quarter

WP, a friend and journalist, and I took a walk round the city and in particular, the Northern Quarter of Manchester.

By way of a very short background, Manchester city centre is further divided into sub-areas. Each of these areas are known for having certain features, be it posh, high street, bric-a-brac, ghetto-ropey, urban, industrial, academic or commercial. For example, I live in Castlefield and it is known for being regenerated, nu-posh and full of young professionals. However, it is debatable as to whether this falls within the "city centre" in the strict or loose sense. I love Castlefield and it is my favourite part of the city centre. I'll talk about this in a separate post.

Today it's the Northern Quarter, and in particular, a cute little shop called Oklahoma.

As the name suggests, the NQ lies in the northern part of the city centre, right above the convergance point in Piccadilly Gardens. If I could pick just three words to describe the NQ, I would say it is:

1. Hippie (you know, Earth-friendly, say-no-to-waste, save the planet, organic produce)
2. Individualistic (no high-street chains or mass production - just really bespoke boutiques and shops)
3. Artsy (Prints, music, painting, posters - you name it, the NQ's got it)

WP asked if I could help her take some photos of Oklahoma as she was going to write a review of the place in an article for an online magazine. Her camera had ran out of juice and mine was still running. As the ever professional journalist, she had spoken to the shop owner before to ask questions and find out about the history of the place. I will post a link to her review here once it's published. As for me, I thought I'd just share my experience as a first-time visitor and my thoughts on the shop and its products and services.

You will see from the photograph above that Oklahoma is hidden behind a pair of solid wooden doors, graced by a neon sign above them reading OkLaHoMa. Higgledy-piggledy (sp?) neon letters and a cute orangutanhouse-esque menu next to the front door - so far so good. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time, nor belly space for lunch but the place seems obviously vegetarian/vegan and in line with the general theme of NQ shops, is probably fair trade and organic. There was not a sliver of chicken (battery farmed or otherwise) in sight.

Walking into the shop, I missed the cafe section entirely as my attention was immediately wooed by an explosion of kitsch and quirky products strewn haphazardly within the store.

On closer inspection, this appears to be an organised mess of knick-knacks.

Enter Oklahoma:

The first thing you see

Little socks hanging on the washing line

They even rented out DVDs - off the beaten-track ones, not your normal blockbuster films.

I know, anyone want a flamingo for your living room? I like the bags in the background, really cute and you'll spot them a mile away on the carousels in airports.

Cards, reusable shopping bags made from vietnamese rice sacks, paper chains, unidentifiable colourful objects

Quirky one liner mugs, crystal curtains and wrapping paper

Pots of beauty potions - they even carry Burt's Bees - my favourite lip balms!

The side entrance to the cafe. Love the frilly blue brolly and flower power seats. Every piece of furniture was slightly different from each other.

I really like these lunchboxes, they remind me of Strawberry Shortcake - a ubiquitous fixture on our pencil cases and dresses as children back in Malaysia.

The patrons were mostly young adults dropping by for a coffee, cake and conversation. I didn't see any families with children but would

Earrings, headbands and bangles - WP informs me these are Oklahoma's bestsellers

Finally, my favourite item in the whole shop - these adorable rainbow candy cane earrings. I love these!! Fantastic Plastic - the puffy cloud pieces at the end of the rainbows are so cute.

My verdict: Oklahoma definitely impresses in terms of its decor and layout. It sells a concept rather than products. I could find very few items which I actually needed - this is probably a place to visit when you need to find a present for a friend, as a bit of a joke or otherwise. (No one really needs a rubber chicken laying a rubber egg, or a pink clay flamingo). In the good times, there is a definite market for things we don't need, and Oklahoma markets them well. It's a little bit too chaotic and frivolous for my personal taste, I'm a minimalist I'm afraid. However, I could see how people would enjoy coming here for a nosey. Oklahoma is a feast for the eyes, but as to whether I would actually pick something up worth taking to the till and paying for...

My favourite item was the rainbow earrings - yes I would wear them. As for everything else, they're fun to look at but that's about it. I'm sure there are tonnes of people in Manchester who love Superman glasses (the cups, not the spectacles) and Korean Pucca headbands. I do think it makes perfect business sense to set up the cafe next door as this was bustling on a Saturday.

If you know someone who loves the fun and quirky, this is definitely a winner. It's a one stop shop - the cards, wrapping paper and present can be purchased and you could probably be quite certain that you won't be getting the same thing as her other friends who went gift-hunting on the high street.

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