As Harrogate leaders prepare to tackle major challenges in the retail sector, the chairman of one of the town’s oldest and most prestigious family businesses has take an unprecedented step into the limelight to argue the case for change.
The rare call for action by William Woods of Woods of Harrogate, which counts the royal family amongst its prestigious client list, is being made after careful reflection by a man who helped set up Harrogate Civic Society in the 1970s and cares passionately for the well-being of the town.
Renowned internationally for its luxury linens, soft furnishings and interior design service, Woods has bucked the general trend for struggling times on the high street, enjoying its best year in 2017 for eight years.
But William Woods said the enduring success of his family business , whose origins go back to 1773, was built on constant change, as well as tradition, and it’s that which might serve as a template.
He said: “The very last thing I want to be is boastful but I firmly believe our success can be used as a template and could contribute to the continued success that makes Harrogate unique and different to any other town.”
William, who still walks the shop floor with a watchful eye at the premises on Prince Albert Row on Station Parade, said he did not believe the rise of the internet meant the demise of the high street if changes were made.
William said: “I don’t believe the internet will kill the high street if towns and cities look to be individual and not clones of every other high street.
“But there are other negative factors at play. I would like to see the Government having a much fairer business rating system so businesses in the town centre are not penalised so heavily. It’s not fair that businesses pay £1 of rates in the town centre when it’s 46p out of town and just 11p online.
“I would also like to see local authorities to have much more control of what happens in their town or city so they can decide how their town centres look and function.”
The intervention of the owner of Woods, a business which has long been the heart and soul of the town along with other high quality independents such as Bettys, Ogden’s and Rhodes Wood, comes at a time when local business leaders and Harrogate Borough Council are working together to improve the environment for town centre businesses.
So passionate on the subject is the owner of Woods, he even went so far as to organised a round table meeting last month at Harrogate Civic Centre with the aim of finding solutions to the problem of vacant shops and falling footfall in Harrogate town centre.
The fact the attendees included the likes of the town’s MP Andrew Jones, the council’s chief executive Wallace Sampson and the chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association Alan Hawkins, shows the scale of Woods’ reputation.
One of the key new initiatives is a ballot of Harrogate town centre shops and businesses to decide whether to set up a BID.
While keenly interested in potential progress towards Harrogate becoming a Business Improvement District, William Woods said he was still deliberating on his views as regards BID.
He said: “Being different is vital. Harrogate had to offer an experience that no other town offers.
"But we have to be careful what changes are made in the town centre.
“I’m not necessarily in favour of pedestrianisation because ease of parking is very important to shops”
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