Why Harrogate retailers think customers will come back to town centre in stage two of roadmap

Next Monday is D-Day for shops - and shoppers - in Harrogate as the lockdown rules ease. In an era of online ordering can the bricks and mortar sector bounce back?

Friday, 9th April 2021, 5:34 pm
Flying the flag for Commercial Street shops with a giant new banner - Harrogate BID chair Sara Ferguson and Sue Kramer with Commercial Street Retailers group.

People may have spent more time than ever ordering from home in the past 12 months but Harrogate’s retailers are betting on the appeal of the bricks and mortar shopping experience to win the day when lockdown rules ease on Monday.

Independent shops, in particular, are putting on a friendly face and raising their game to make sure they are looking their best for customers when stage two of the Government’s roadmap kicks in next week.

Traders like Sophie Hartley are well aware that it isn’t just a case of opening the doors and welcoming everybody back.

But the owner of Sophie Likes boutique gift shop on Beulah Street says her overwhelming feeling at opening again is one of excitement.

Sophie said: “I am counting down the days until reopening on the 12th.

“I have been busy in the shop over the last few weeks giving it a fresh look for Spring and will be working next week to make sure it is looking it best and ready for customers.

“We will have balloons out on the day and just hope the sun will be shining and people come out and show their support for the high street.

“You can’t beat the shopping experience in a bricks and mortar shop and we will be ready to welcome everyone safely and with a friendly face.”

No one with an interest in the future of the high street or Harrogate town centre is under any illusion about the scale of the task in hand as the roadmap, hopefully, takes the nation back to a normal world in the months to come.

The British Chambers of Commerce’s latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) - the UK’s largest independent survey of business sentiment and a leading indicator of UK GDP growth - found that business conditions remained historically poor in the first quarter of 2021 as the third lockdown severely limited activity.

Harrogate, too, has empty units on prime retail streets and traders limping along on low footfall.

With the return of this vital sector just days away, the local authorities and Harrogate BID have also been stepping up their game.

Recent weeks have seen BID busy giving the streets of Harrogate an early spring clean, building on the day-to-day work undertaken by Harrogate Borough Council’s street cleansing department.

Keeping customers safe also remains of concern to traders, despite the success of the vaccine rollout.

Like Paperchase on James Street, most shop owners will be instituting enhanced cleaning and personal hygiene procedures with social distancing and protective screens in place.

Their relief at being able to reopen after four months is almost palpable.

Lynn Cummings, manager at Jespers, the stationers on Oxford Street which is one of Harrogate’s longest established independent retailers, said: “It has certainly been a long few months and we are definitely looking forward at Jespers to welcoming our customers back.”

With Harrogate town centre subsisting on food shops and takeway cafes since the Christmas period, business leaders are mounting a concerted campaign to raise awareness of what the high street still has to offer.

Sue Kramer of Commercial Street Retailers said shops could no longer afford to sit on their laurels.

And, she added, making use of outdoor spaces would be crucial in determining the success of reopening.

“We are very excited as the date of April 12 creeps ever nearer and all of our non-essential shops can reopen.

“In preparation it’s all going on in Commercial Street. We’ve a new product launch, new food to whet your appetite, Kurdish Style Barbers and Rafi’s Spicebox have both moved higher up the street, while Victoria Beauty Specialist will open their doors for the first time, and many shops are having a general spruce up in readiness.

“It’s vital we see outdoor spaces/pavements used by the hospitality sector. Lilly’s Cafe and Bean & Bud on Commercial Street will be making the most of theirs with outdoor/takeway service.”

Since the group was set up last year to promote all the businesses in the street, Sue said it had received amazing support from both Harrogate Business improvement District (BID) and Harrogate Borough Council.

The spirits of traders on Commercial Street had been lifted by the erection of an eye-catching banner by Harrogate BID to help lure shoppers to their part of town.

Sue said: “We are so grateful to Harrogate BID for providing Commercial Street with such an eye-catching new banner at the top of the street.

“ We are absolutely over the moon with it. Our thanks also go to De-Signs in Harrogate for making the banner.

“In the few months since we started the retailers group, we have achieved so much and had amazing support from both BID and the council. Hopefully our efforts will encourage locals back into town and onto our street.

“We need it, as we usually get a lot of custom from visitors, who are thin on the ground at the moment.”

“The council has given us a new bench for shoppers to sit and rest, have cleaned the high-level road signs, and BID has provided floral displays. To say I’m over the moon is an understatement.”

Harrogate BID Chair Sara Ferguson, who co-owns Sasso restaurant and Caffe Marconi in Harrogate, said: “The BID’s remit is to draw footfall into the town centre, and promote the fantastic mix of businesses which help make Harrogate the very special place it is.

“When Sue asked if we could provide a banner for Commercial Street, we readily agreed.”

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