Love Your High Street: Here's why Commercial Street is one of Harrogate's best hidden gems
Widely populated with independent businesses and its unique array of specialist shops, Commercial Street is one of Harrogate's best hidden gems.
Hidden, because a number of shopkeepers feel that their beloved street is often overlooked by residents and visitors, who might not venture beyond the town centre’s most prominent shopping streets.
From Stothard’s Pet Store, which celebrates 50 years in business this week - to a jewellers, a coffee shop, a second-hand book shop, and a picture framers, Commercial Street has a breadth of shops that is difficult to rival.
Sue Kramer, who has run Crown Jewellers on Commercial Street for almost 18 years with her husband Stephen, said the Christmas period can be “make or break” for businesses on our high street, and has urged residents to shop local in the approaching festive months.
Speaking about the charm of Commercial Street, Sue said: “There are so many independents, and you are getting an incredible service with real expertise from people who are passionate about what they do. It is a special street because of the wealth and breadth of shops, and it’s good to remind people that we are here.
“I feel that Commercial Street is much-overlooked. We still get people coming into our shops and saying they didn’t know we were here because they don’t come down here very often.
“But Commercial Street offers a unique experience. There is a big focus on attracting visitors to Harrogate, but as a street and as a town, I think we need to look at more ways of encouraging locals to use our shops.
“The Christmas trading period is so important for so many of our businesses, it can be almost make or break.”
Recognising how critical Christmas time can be for retailers, Commercial Street is consistently one of the biggest-giving street when it comes to raising funds for the town’s Christmas lights.
Sue said it’s an important project that benefits not only Commercial Street, but the town as a whole.
She said: “I do think Christmas lights are so important for Commercial Street, to encourage people to come down the street and use our shops.
“If people look down the street and don’t see any lights, but see lights elsewhere, they might not come down our street and think there’s nothing there. And it’s great to see Harrogate all lit up at Christmas.
“There really is a terrific community spirit on Commercial Street. I think because we are all independents, there is the sense that we are all in the same boat. There’s great camaraderie.”
John Fox, the Chairman of the Harrogate at Christmas Group, which spearheads fundraising for the town’s Christmas lights, said: “Commercial Street is one of Harrogate town centre’s unique streets, full of independent shops offering a wide range of goods and services. The businesses form a great community, working together - particularly at Christmas time, raising over £800 towards the Christmas lights.”
Celebrating 21 years on Commercial Street, Jenny Smart, the owner of second-hand book shop, Books for All, said the street has a charm that visitors look for and expect when they come to Harrogate.
Jenny said: “I think people expect something of Harrogate, they expect it to be a bit old-fashioned and a bit quaint. I think Commercial Street has a lot of interesting shops on it, and it’s still got independents. It’s that street people are looking for in Harrogate.”
Jenny estimates that her shop houses between 20,000 and 30,000 books - with everything from modern paperbacks to antiquarian, and everything in between.
Stepping into what looks like a relatively small bookshop from the outside, visitors are surprised when they are greeted by thousands of books towering above them, with book cases stretching as far as the eye can see.
Jenny said: “I think they are just surprised at how big it is - they see it from the outside and just think it’s this little shop, then they go upstairs and see how much of it there is.
“I think it’s unusual for someone to come in and go away empty-handed. They might not find what they necessarily came in looking for, but they often find something - because I do tend to do books on pretty much every subject, and I think they are wowed by how much there is.
“I think people like that it’s a bit old-fashioned, maybe that it’s a bit higgledy-piggledy. I think they find that charming. The shop has so many nooks and crannies to explore. There is somebody who comes in regularly and spends three or four hours here looking through the books.”
Jenny gets a lot of her stock from house clearances, and she loves the sheer variety of books that she comes across on a daily basis.
She said: “You never know what you’re going to see, or what you’re going to come across. You often come across something that you haven’t seen before. I find all collections interesting.”
“My dad was mad about books, he always had a book in his hand. And as children we were taken around second-hand book shops - wherever we went we found one.
“But it used to frustrate me when there weren’t any modern children’s books in bookshops. That’s one of the reasons why I particularly like specialising in children’s books. If there wasn’t a second-hand bookshop in Harrogate, I think the town would just be missing so many books that you can’t get in new bookshops.”
Christmas is a busy time for Jenny, as she rounds up ideal stocking fillers and sifts through the best of her stock.
Among other things, Jenny will be putting together a special Christmas display with decorations made out of old books. Jenny said above all, it’s the relationship that she has built up with customers over so many years that she treasures the most.
She said: “You see the same people over and over, and see people who used to come in as children, now coming in with their children, which is just amazing.”