Make or break for Harrogate as businesses look for local support in run up to Christmas

This Christmas looks set to be make or break for Harrogate’s town centre as traders face a desperate race against time to salvage something from an economically disastrous year.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:54 pm
Updated Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:58 pm

The Government’s easing of lockdown earlier this week has fired the starting gun for a festive shopping period like no other.

As shops, bars, cafes and restaurants in Harrogate urge the public to come back in force, the imminent demise of big name retail instition Debenhams, which has a store on Parliament Street, shows why it is a message that should be heeded by all readers of this newspaper.

The Harrogate Advertiser’s #supportourindies campaign shining a light on the amazing amount of locally-owned, high quality independent businesses has been mirrored by a determination by many of the town’s brilliant indies to work harder, open longer and offer more to customers.

Harrogate businesses face a race against time to make the most of the Christmas shopping rush.

But, with only three weeks of trading time left before Christmas, the town’s business leaders, too, are warning it has never been more important to shop local.

Sara Ferguson, acting chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) said: “2020 has been a very bleak year for retail and hospitality, and won’t get any easier for some time to come.

“But the retail and hospitality sector has been champing at the bit to reopen. We would encourage everyone to come into town, do their Christmas shopping, enjoy a meal and a drink whilst observing the latest Government Covid guidelines.”

The Harrogate BID team have done a great deal to try and attract shoppers to the town in the run up to Christmas.

In reality, Harrogate has just 22 days to create a Christmas miracle for hard-pressed businesses as the high street comes back to life after lockdown.

Although there are fears this week’s reopening of non-essential shops may have come too late for some, there will be no shortage of effort to recoup some of this year’s Covid-related financial losses.

Independent businesses involved with the Harrogate Advertiser’s #supportourindies campaign are determined to do their best to attract local customers and capitalise on what may prove to be their most crucial ever festive shopping season.

News of the imminent closure of landmark department store Debenhams has sent alarm bells ringing in the town’s retail sector.

But, Sara Ferguson believes everything is still to play for in the three weeks remaining before Christmas.

She said: “Debenhams has been an integral part of Harrogate’s retail scene for many years and its closure is incredibly sad, not least for the staff members who will lose their jobs as a result.

“While 2020 has been a very bleak year for retail and hospitality, and won’t get any easier for some time to come, the reopening of businesses this week is welcome news.”

Local indies’ efforts are being aided by the introduction of ‘Tier 2’ rules for North Yorkshire which also allow the reopening of bars, cafes and venues, albeit with strict conditions on social distancing and, in the case of pubs, the necessity to offer ‘substantial meals’ along with alcohol.

The Government has also announced a temporary relaxation of the rules on opening hours for shops.

Many Harrogate businesses, local independents and national chains included are already planning to open their greatest-ever number of hours, including not only M&S and most shops in Victoria Shopping Centre but also smaller shops in the Montpellier Quarter, one of the town’s most prestigious retail areas.

Announcing new opening times for Victoria Shopping Centre, centre manager James White said: “We expect the centre to be busy over the Christmas period; there is definitely an appetite for Christmas shopping and retailers are looking to adjust their hours upwards throughout December.

“To accommodate stores that wish to stay open for longer hours, the centre will remain open until 7pm weekdays up until Thursday, December 24.”

At a time of doom and gloom over the future of town centre economies at the national level, Harrogate’s relative resilience is reflected in the fact that new independent businesses are still opening.

The last few days have seen the opening of new health cafe Hustle & Co launched by two friends at the site once occupied by Filmore & Union restaurant on Prince Albert Row in Harrogate, as well as new bar and pizzeria Hidden, located on The Ginnel previously occupied by Porco Rosso.

In addition, plans were revealed for the opening this Saturday of Scandi-inspired Grön Kafe at the former Quantro site on Royal Parade.

Harrogate BID has also launched a series of new initiatives to revive footfall in the town centre. As well as repeating last year’s financial support for Harrogate Bus Company’s free Sunday buses on three Harrogate Electrics routes, it has also invested in spectacular Christmas lights in the town centre.

Next week will see BID launch a brand new venture - “free after three” car parking, where motorists arriving after 3pm will be able to park for free in the Victoria Car Park on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, between December 7 and 24.

But if Harrogate town centre ever needed the public to shop local it is now.

The ‘Tier 2’ rules that Harrogate district now falls under until at least December 16, limit both activity and footfall for the food and drink sector, in particular.

For every bar reopening with a food offer such as Major Tom’s Social, Starling or The Fat Badger in Harrogate or the Cross Keys in Knaresborough or So! Bar in Ripon, there is another one such as Devonshire Tap House in Harrogate, the Half Moon in Knaresborough or The One Eyed Rat in Ripon which cannot serve a ‘substantial meal’ and isn’t.

Sandra Doherty, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commercor points out, that until a Government rethink of its tier system, the physicality of spacing and the numbers allowed will make reopening unviable for some.

And, she added, opening longer hours for some of Harrogate’s brilliant indies may not make financial sense even in the key shopping weeks remaining.

She said: “Permitting shops to open for extra hours will allow retailers to benefit from a potential increase in trade but, in most cases, the extra costs in staffing will actually cut into profits.”