A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers
As the almost weekly tide of openings and closures in Harrogate town rolls on, it’s tempting to write if off as part of the workings of the merry-go-round of economic life.
But what’s happening to shops and restaurants, cafes and bars in town centres across North Yorkshire and the rest of the country isn’t inevitable.
The storm of uncertainty and change we are living through is man-made, it’s not a natural weather system.
The businesses who voted for Harrogate BID less than a year ago certainly think so, otherwise they would have voted differently and would not now be paying a levy to fund its good works.
After a quiet start, this newish Business Improvement District is starting to get the bit between its teeth.
Harrogate blogger 'risked hypothermia ' to swim Windermere
The next few months will see it launch a new Harrogate Gift Card to encourage people to shop locally, as well as orchestrating a programme of entertainment to encourage visitors to shop in Harrogate.
So far, the policies have been a case of trying to hook in more shoppers rather than changing the overall environment traders have to work in.
Rent and rates are two of the toughest obstacles to overcome.
Doing anything substantial about these two major costs to setting up and succeeding in the town centre would require Harrogate BID to win the agreement of bigger fish for to secure deeper changes.
But it can be done.
After successfully negotiating new terms for almost every Ann Summers store nationwide, the chief executive of this national chain told industry magazine Retail Week recently that landlords were burying their heads in the sand.
For good measure, Jacqueline Gold added that property owners were all living in cloud cuckoo land if they thought historic rental levels from the pre-crash days of the Noughties were sustainable.
Earlier this year, this newspaper was told Harrogate’s HMV store survived a closure threat when HMV argued successfully with the property’s owners for rent reductions.
Can you imagine the effect on Harrogate town centre if it didn’t cost the earth for local independent traders to set up shop?
Difficult change is often the change most worth doing.
“Es tut mir leid, ich spreche kein deutsch. Sprichst du English?”
That was my opening gambit to the head of marketing in the Austrian city of Innsbruck on the phone last Thursday.
The purpose of the call was to find out what the experience of welcoming the world cup of cycling was like for the last place to host it.
Twelve months ago the people of the fifth largest city in Austria felt just like us – not entirely sure about what was about to hit them and not entirely sure whether they were going to like it or not.
In the event, they loved it and it turned out to be a great week.
My attempts at German turned out to be unnecessary, though.
“No need to try to speak German,” said the efficient and friendly Esther Wilhelm who of course spoke perfect English, as most of the people on the continent do.