Harrogate shops 'fight back' over Christmas period in easing of Brexit gloom

Last year was scarcely a vintage one for Harrogate's retail sector but some of Harrogate’s leading independent retailers believe there were hopeful signs in the town’s high street as shoppers returned to the town centre over the festive period.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 2:59 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 2:59 pm
Successful festive period - Independent Harrogate business co-owner Jessica Wyatt of Mama Doreen's cafe. (1803311AM1)
Successful festive period - Independent Harrogate business co-owner Jessica Wyatt of Mama Doreen's cafe. (1803311AM1)

Although no one the Harrogate Advertiser spoke to was hailing the end of challenging times for the retail sector, all agreed that consumer confidence had seemed to return as soon as uncertainty over Brexit and the General Election had ended.

Jessica Wyatt, co-owner of Mama Doreen’s cup cake shop and cafe, who took the bold decision to move into a prime spot in James Street in the town centre less than six months ago, said it hadn’t just been her business which had enjoyed a good Christmas.

She said: “Mama Doreen’s has been incredibly busy this festive season and we’ve been delighted to welcome lots of new and familiar faces, including lots of families who have been tucking into our winter wonderland afternoon tea.

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“We had to work non-stop to make sure everyone receives the best possible experience. I haven’t had lots of time to head out myself but those I have spoken to have had a similar experience.

“It’s been happy faces and there has been a lovely sense of community.”

Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce believes the picture was “mixed”, though it was quick to add that none of the traders it talked to had said their takings were down.

In an era when the nation’s general switch to online shopping shows no signs of slowing down, this, in itself, is a better performance than in other towns and cities in the UK.

Steve Scarre, the Harrogate chamber’s president, said: “I’ve spoken to a number of retailers and I got a mixed reaction to how business was for them in the run up to Christmas.

Mr Scarre said: “Some said it had been good with one saying they were up 10% on last year, some saying it was about the same as last year.

“None that I spoke to said their takings were down.”

“The Christmas Market was a great success once again this year with some retailers saying it was the best four days of the year for them, including some of the bigger national stores.

“I did see myself lots of delivery vans dropping off parcels from what I presumed were internet-based retailers.

“But quite a lot of our local retailers sell via the internet also, so fingers crossed.”

Some of Harrogate’s independent stores are reporting that the town’s shoppers have been making a point of supporting ‘physical shops’, in particular, independently-owned ones.

Such customer loyalty is crucial, says Georgia Duffy, managing director of independent book shop Imagined Things which is based in Westminster Arcade.

She said: “I think Harrogate town centre on the whole has had some very busy periods of footfall, but again also some unexpectedly quiet days, too. We’ve been encouraged by the number of people who’ve specified they’d rather shop independently rather than online this Christmas - which is amazing.

“We’ve also been surprised by the number of people making a concious effort to buy more things locally this year too which is brilliant.

“We’ve also had many visitors who were delighted to rediscover the joy of being in a physical shop which was lovely to see.”

If the majority of the remaining empty units in Harrogate town centre tend to have been vacated by national chains, whether that’s Gap or Jaimie’s, the indepedents continue to argue that offering a unique and high quality service is the key to a long-term future.

Woods Fine Linens and Interior Design shop on Prince Albert Row, Station Parade is celebrating its 125th year.

William Woods, a founder member of Independent Harrogate, said the family-run business had enjoyed an “excellent Christmas.”

He said: “I firmly believe that the reason for our success has been based on being unique.

“I personally feel Independent Harrogate’s new slogan - ‘Quality not Mediocrity’ - should be the basis of how Harrogate should market itself.”

The ending of political deadlock in Westminster over the country’s future and the apparent easing of Brexit controversy is another reason given for the more optimistic picture of late.

Chamber president Steve Scarre said: “The last two years or so have been full of uncertainty and concern for our future which seems to have eased.

“I suppose the drawing to an end of the question of who would lead the country will also have given the public some encouragement to spend their hard-earned money.

“Let’s hope 2020 is a positive year for our retailers and it’s onwards and upwards.”