Why Harrogate isn't going back to 1970s opening hours and why recruitment crisis will not wreck town's hospitality sector

Harrogate hospitality businesses are determined to avoid turning the clock back to 1970s-style opening hours and say this crucial sector for the town’s economy is still on track for a successful 2022.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 22nd April 2022, 3:17 pm

It's not just the shortage of drivers visible in Harrogate's public transport system since lockdown ended which has been raising concern of late.

A combination of the cost of living crisis and on-going staffing shortages have seen a minority of bars, cafes and shops choosing to close early on certain days or not opening at all for part of the week.

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Sara Ferguson, chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID), said: “As a business owner, and one that was affected by three national lockdowns, we had to evaluate what hours we opened."

For some this return to an approach - not seen since the days before Sunday trading was first allowed in 1994 or strict licensing hours were relaxed in 2005 - is a worrying sign of a backward step.

But Harrogate business leaders say such fears do not tally with the recent opening of new cafes, restaurants and shops in the town centre.

David Simister, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, admits there has been a hangover from Covid.

But, he added, he was confident things were starting to head the right way in retail and food and drink.

“The way every business now operates has, to some extent, been shaped by Covid,” said Mr Simister.

“This was very evident as we came out of the first national lockdown, with many businesses changing their opening hours and closing either one or two days a week when they previously opened on seven days.

“A shortage of staff in many sectors, in particular hospitality, has also meant it simply has not been possible to operate as they did before the pandemic. Businesses don’t choose to reduce their operating hours, it’s done out of necessity.

“But I have noticed that a number of shops that initially reopened with reduced hours and fewer days have now returned to their pre-pandemic timetable, which is very

encouraging."

Simon Colgan, who owns the Blues Bar, as well as The Worlds End pub in Knaresborough, said the recruitment crisis would not stop the Blues Bar operating as Harrogate’s only seven-nights-a-week venue - but accepted it was having an impact.

“I am short of at least 12 members of staff,” said Mr Colgan. “We would normally have many European staff of all nationalities but I am now down to one non-Brit.

“This would be okay if there were plenty of people coming to fill the vacancies but they aren’t.

“I have had two very interesting business opportunities given to me, that I have refused due to not having the staff to take them on.”

Husband and wife team David and Jo Straker, who own Harrogate institution William & Victoria Restaurant and Wine Bar say they have only had to “tweak” their

hours a little.

“Lockdown affected us hugely, having to adapt to offering takeaway and being creative in creating outside space.

“But our staff were retained throughout the lockdowns and continue to work together as a close team.

“Whilst we continue to open every day, we have tweaked our opening hours so that last food orders are now at 9pm Monday to Saturday instead of 9.30pm but we only open our upstairs area at weekends and for private parties so that we can manage staffing.”

Almost a bigger worry for the Strakers, as they mark three decades of running the town’s most popular bistro, ironically, is a phenomenon which shows the continuing attraction of Harrogate.

“The main challenge for us is the wave of new restaurants and bars opening in Harrogate which dilutes the market, especially midweek,” said Jo Straker.

“That coupled with rising food and wage costs does add pressure.

“We continue to offer an excellent ‘Set Lunch’ menu and ‘Early Bird’ menu alongside our a la carte menu to entice people in during the quieter times but on the whole we are doing fine with the support of our loyal locals.

“It’s David’s 30th year as front of house of William & Victoria so we are looking forward to marking the occasion and continuing to offer a more personal experience.”

Despite the trials and tribulations of finding staff in an era of Brexit and Covid, Harrogate business leaders believe the rigours of lockdown showed the town had the resilience to overcome new economic hurdles.

Sara Ferguson, chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID), said: “As a business owner, and one that was affected by three national lockdowns, social distancing and no indoor dining and drinking, we had to evaluate what hours we opened.

“I know of plenty that initially shut on Sundays and Mondays, and now they are back operating seven days a week, demonstrating that footfall has increased, which is good news for business and the town economy.

“That was certainly boosted by workers returning to their offices.

“If businesses do change their opening hours, they are doing it for a reason; it’s not something that we should be concerned about.

“If they shut permanently, then that’s when we should begin to worry.

Mrs Ferguson concluded: “For those old enough to remember the 1970s, shops closed on Sundays and many observed half-day opening on Wednesdays.

“There were also very strict licensing laws restricting opening hours.

“Walking around Harrogate town centre at the moment, there’s plenty of activity, and new businesses are taking empty shop units, which is very welcome news.”