Extension and refurb at Unicorn Grocery

‘As stewards of a worker co-op, long-term resilience to deliver on our Principles of Purpose is a big part of our job’

Unicorn, the worker-owned grocery in south Manchester, has embarked on a project to make significant structural, environmental and internal improvements to its premises.

The store in Chorlton is closing for two weeks as the build project gets under way. 

“Over 24 years we’ve made countless shop improvements, extensions and modifications whilst managing to continue trading (involving some fairly hilarious behind the scenes scrambles and all-nighters),” said the organsiation. “But in April 2021, for the first time ever, we are closing for a fortnight … It’s not been an easy process deciding to do this, but we’ve been putting off some of the work for years and there are jobs we just can’t do while staying open.”

The co-op specialises in “wholesome food, eco household goods and organic veg”, and is extending the building in part to give its veg area extra space, and to deal with the produce overheating caused by its glass porch in the summer months. They will also be making major repairs to the sub-floor, replacing the traditional linoleum flooring (which is made with natural materials such as linseed oil and is both recyclable and biodegradable at the end of its life) and replacing shelving to create a better layout.

Unicorn is working with two local organisations – architecture co-op Loop Systems and interior architects Phaus Design (both run by Unicorn customers), who have “come up with a plan that is really practical but also visually exciting”.

“The design of the new extension reflects the needs of the retail space within, specifically the increased demand for our fruit and veg offer, and alleviating congestion in that area and beyond. In our recent survey, a lot of [our customers] talked about how much they’ve enjoyed the experience of a quieter veg area whilst we’ve been limiting numbers during the pandemic – we hope to retain some of that sense of space in the long term. Plus we want to bring as much joy to your shopping trip as we can!”

They will be increasing bike parking – some of which will be covered – and installing a permanent bike pump available to all. The timber from the current porch structure will be used to construct a new covered trolley park, and inside there will be more space for zero-packaging goods. Covid has played its part in informing the design too, with the new extension including a covered external area in case of queues, and greater space for customers on entrance and exit. Work will continue into May, but the store will be open with a temporary entrance from 19 April.

“As stewards of a worker co-op, long-term resilience to deliver on our Principles of Purpose is a big part of our job,” said the orgaisation. “[We have] got to look after the place for the future Unicorners! We are generally pretty frugal, putting a little profit away every year to invest back into the business. The planned work is a very visual and practical example of that reinvestment.”

Heather Allen from Phaus Design, added: As regular customers and local residents, working with Unicorn is such a privilege and a pleasure as it’s pretty close to our hearts. This isn’t about a radical rethink but an evolved better version of itself that delivers that familiar joyful feeling, in a well-functioning store for both customers and co-operative members, with sustainability at the forefront.”