Reopening relief for Harrogate pub that's been closed for 307 days in last year

Harrogate town centre is enjoying the highest footfall since the first lockdown as people emerged from lockdown.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 4:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th April 2021, 4:02 pm
Far from being cautious, the Harrogate public have come back in their hundreds to the town centre to shop, eat or drink since Monday's easing of lockdown.

There may not quite have been the same scenes as some other parts of the UK which saw long queues develop when shops, beer gardens, hairdressers and gyms unlocked their doors for the first time in 15 weeks as part of stage two of the Government’s roadmap - but there have been queues at times in Harrogate town centre, especially at cafes and hairdressers.

For one Harrogate bar it has been a particular relief to be open again for customers outside.

Enjoying the outside beer garden at The Montpellier pub in Harrogate which has been closed for 307 days out of the last year.

The Montpellier pub says it has been closed for 307 days out of the last year as a result of the pandemic.

Far from being cautious, the Harrogate public have come back in their hundreds in the bright but chilly sunshine to retail areas such as Cambridge Street, Oxford Street, James Street, Beulah Street, Commercial Street and Station Parade, in particular.

Music and film shop HMV opened its doors for the first time in Victoria Shopping Centre since last December, as did Waterstones book shop on James Street and Imagined Things bookshop in Westminster Arcade.

A new shop even opened on Commercial Street - Harrogate Town FC’s pop-up shop for supporters which is open until Saturday at least.

It’s been a sight welcomed by Harrogate business leaders who say it augurs well for the future of the town centre.

Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) chair Sara Ferguson said: “Walking around town there was a really good vibe. It was busy and there were plenty of people with shopping bags.

“It was wonderful seeing Harrogate’s hospitality and retail sectors open again and town beginning to return to normal, with customers browsing shelves, visiting hairdressers, and enjoying a bite to eat and a drink with family and friends.”

Just how important this week’s rush back to the high street and the hospitality sector is can be judged by recent statistics showing the switch to online spending continues to grow. The figures for January showed more than a third of all retail sales were online, compared to just 20 per cent a year later and only 14 per cent in 2016.

With Harrogate experiencing an increase in empty units in key shopping streets since the pandemic began with the closure in the town of chains such as Debenhams and Laura Ashley, there is encouragement that there seemed to be as many people about this week as in normal times before the first lockdown.

Sandra Doherty, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said: “I’m delighted it was busy, but not rammed, as we need to ensure visitors feel safe and secure. “It has been lovely to see Harrogate doing what it does best - welcoming people to our lovely town.”

But pressure remains from the hospitality sector for the Government to stick to its roadmap on further relaxation.

Under the new rules, which will run until the start of stage three on May 17, if all goes well, customers must order, eat and drink while seated at a table and follow either the rule of six, or be in a group with no more than two households present.

Social distancing remains in place, as does the wearing of face masks and table service.

The result of all this is that the pub industry has warned the sector is on its knees, with only two in five English pubs re-opening on Monday after a terrible 12 months when 2,500 pubs nationally are estimated to have closed for good.

The British Beer & Pub Association’s chief executive, Emma McClarkin claimed earlier this week that stage two guidelines mean “no pub is expecting to profit from reopening outdoors, and many will make a loss”.

Although Harrogate’s food and drinks sector is relieved at making some progress, the ban on indoor eating and drinking has limited customer numbers, meaning some bars have decided not to re-open for now.

Most traders are trying to make the best of a situation they hope will only be temporary before a full return to normality in the summer.

Outdoor seating - where possible - is the order of the day everywhere from the Bean & Bud cafe on Commercial Street to Weetons on West Park and The Harrogate Tap bar at the railway station.

When it comes to time, money and ideas devoted by Harrogate businesses on maximising outdoor custom, the most prominent example has to be The Yorkshire Hotel on Prospect Place with its pop-up beer and food garden.

Having moved in tonnes of earth, planted shrubs and grass, built a mini “Brimham Rocks” with Yorkshire gritstone, laid a dry stone wall and installed a miniature railway, it unveiled what it calls “Ales in the Dales” on Monday and quickly attracted a flood of customers.

With that sort of innovation on show, not to forget sense of humour, Harrogate’s hopes of a sustained consumer-led revival for the town centre this summer may be well placed.