Inside report: Harrogate's 'secret' shopping gem

Magnificent and elegant but rarely celebrated - what can be done to raise the profile of Westminster Arcade?

Monday, 23rd July 2018, 4:17 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd July 2018, 4:22 pm
Inside Harrogate's amazing Westminister Arcade. (1807172AM3)
Inside Harrogate's amazing Westminister Arcade. (1807172AM3)

In most other places this architecturally beautiful and unique Victorian shopping arcade which first opened its doors to customers in Harrogate in 1898 would be the pride of the town.

Rock musician Eric Clapton even co-owns a shop in it!

But in Harrogate this amazingly lovely vintage covered arcade located at 32 Parliament Street still feels like a bit of a secret gem all these years later.

Tony Wilkinson, co-owner of The Harrogate Tea Rooms at Westminster Arcade.

At least it was until one of the independent businesses sitting on its three genteel floors with its chequered tiles and distinctive decorative ironwork put out a cry for help.

A simple tweet a fortnight ago from Georgia Duffy, owner of Imagined Things bookshop, produced a phenomenal reaction, not just from local people concerned at its plight but nationwide.

Her tweet said: “Things have been tough recently - today the worst day ever...We only took £12.34 today...if anyone was thinking about buying a book now would be a great time.”

Within a matter of days the tweet had garnered more than 1 million impressions and Georgia herself was appearing on BBC Radio 4 to talk about her perfectly formed little shop in Harrogate and the arcade as a whole.

When Tony Wilkinson, co-owner of neighbouring business Harrogate Tea Rooms, came to the Harrogate Advertiser to raise the same issue, he, too, was stunned by the interest in this classy old lady of shopping centres.

Tony said: “We could not believe the response to the article in the Harrogate Advertiser. It really has opened my eyes as to how people read the Advertiser from front to the back.

“As many people mentioned the Advertiser’s online version as they saw it on Facebook.”

Not that Westminster Arcade can now afford to sit back and rest on its laurels.Regular customers at what is Harrogate’s grandest shopping arcade may be well aware of its sophisticated charms.

But it’s not the easiest of times for traders on the high street and not everyone has actually set foot inside Westminster Arcade.

Steeped in history, the Harrogate Advertiser asked the shop owners themselves what they think of its future prospects.What is it that makes Westminster Arcade so special?

And what are the shops’ own ideas to how to raise the profile of the lovely Westminster Arcade?

Cordings2 Westminster Arcade

Co-owned by rock music legend Eric Clapton, iconic country clothing brand Cordings has only two stores in the UK - London and Harrogate.The famous British clothing store has kitted out explorers, rock stars and royalty in the finest tweed and wool since 1839. It arrived at Westminster Arcade in November 2015 and sits prominently at the front facing Parliament Street.

Why Westminster Arcade is special:Cordings store manager Georgie Eadington said: “We are all independent business, a rare thing these days. “Shoppers in the arcade can shop for quality clothing, books, jewellery and healthcare, as well as having lunch and getting a haircut. “Also, the arcade is located in an historic part of our beautiful spa town being close to both the Pump Rooms and the Royal Baths as well as the Royal Hall and Bettys. It’s a great location.”

How to raise the profile of Westminster Arcade profile:Cordings store manager Georgie Eadington said: “We would like to see more collaborative shopping events involving more of the stores. “We have seen the free walking tour take people past on the other side of Parliament Street. It would be great if he would bring people through the arcade. “We also feel that we would like to see more of the businesses trading seven days a week – it would really help to make Sundays more popular.”

The Harrogate Tea Rooms9 Westminster Arcade

Co-owned by husband-and-wife team Tony and Caroline Wilkinson, the Harrogate Tea Rooms is located on the arcade’s first floor. For fans of lemon drizzle cake, this vintage eaterie offers a traditional British high quality approach.

Why Westminster Arcade is special:Tony Wilkinson said: “Westminster Arcade is a special place. It’s lovely. Even the quality of light inside is amazing.“It’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of the town centre. It’s Harrogate’s best-looking shopping centre and it’s real. It’s not all chains and glossy signs. It’s unique.”“With the permission of the council and the help of historian Malcolm Neesam and the Harrogate Civic Society we could do with a brown plaque at the arcade explaining its history.“I’m also hoping to get the young man who has started leading tours of Harrogate by foot to include Westminster Arcadeon the route. I’ve heard great reports about him.”

How to raise the profile of Westminster Arcade profile:Tony Wilkinson said: “We need to make Westminster Arcade a destination place in terms of shopping by making it a fun atmosphere with vintage party events.“At the moment, I like to play 40s and 50s music in the background to fit the aracde’s vintage feel.“We already have dancers and barbershop singers coming in thanks to concerts in Harrogate but we need to do more.”

Imagined Things Bookshop4 Westminster Arcade

Harrogate’s indepedent book shop was launched by its managing director Georgia Duffy a year ago.Located on the arcade’s ground floor just inside from Cordings, managing director Georgia Duffy’s lovely literary- lovers den had been looking to attract more custom when she made that famous tweet.Since then support has poured in, not just for her books but for the literary events she holds regularly.Last week alone saw Imagined Things playing host to three ‘meet the thriller/crime author’ free events - Michelle Davies; Malcolm Hollingdrake and Shari Lapena, as well as welcoming through her doors renowned visiting authors from Harrogate's hugely popular annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

Why Westminster Arcade is special:Managing director Georgia Duffy said: “There’s a real sense of community here, lots of the businesses inside support each other and work together to make the Westminster Arcade a lovely place to be. “It is the last remaining Victorian Arcade in Harrogate so historically it’s important, and not to mention beautiful!

How to raise the profile of Westminster Arcade profile:Managing director Georgia Duffy said: “We’re on the free tourist maps as an arcade which is great. But there’s a lot of independent shops here, and I think an independent map for the town centre, similar to what they have in York.“A few of us are planning to be listed on the Visit Harrogate website in our own section which will be really helpful for tourists to find us.”

Meraki Harrogate Salon11 Westminster Arcade

A relative newcomer to the arcade, Meraki Harrogate is a full service salon and blow-dry bar which opened just four months agoHaving worked her way up the hair industry from her early years as a trainee stylist aged 13, owner Sarah Townend’s decision to renovate the old Westminster Hair salon on the first floor of the arcade was a labour of love, she says.

Why Westminster Arcade is special:Owner Sarah Townend said: “The building has so much character we felt is was a perfect fit for our salon.“It’s beautiful inside and out and it’s full of history.“It’s a niche little arcade with some great local independent businesses, which like many other local companies cater for the residents of Harrogate and the thousands of tourists who visit each year.“It’s also close to the Jubilee car park which is handy for potential customers.”

How to raise the profile of Westminster Arcade profile:Owner Sarah Townend said: “The arcade needs more support from local businesses and promotion from both tenants and the buildings owners. I think the owners of the building could do more to promote the Arcade, in terms of advertising and more importantly social media. “We could also utilise Trip Advisor which is a great tool for sharing peoples experience.”

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