The pretty cobblestones and hanging baskets of the Montpellier Quarter have become such an integral part of the Harrogate experience, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been there a short walk down the hill from Bettys tearooms.
In fact, the quarter’s community-spirited traders are about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this traditional-looking mews which has become a popular favourite for residents and visitors alike.
Until 1992, the area was known as Low Harrogate and labelled ‘Antiques Centre of the North’ on account of the number of auction houses and art galleries.
At this point, we have to declare our own interest. For more than a 100 years, this newspaper’s story was intertwined with Montpellier’s.
What is now The Slug & Lettuce bar was once the office of Ackrill Newspapers, the then owners of the Harrogate Advertiser.
Montpellier Street itself was a street of houses for Ackrill’s employees.
And the site of Richard Grafton, Harrogate Wines and Lear Fitness today was our printing works.
What Montpellier Quarter group does
Proud to be hailed as a massive asset to Harrogate’s tourism industry in the 21st century, the Montpellier Quarter is the work of the owners of the independent galleries and shops themselves.
An impressive 95% of the businesses in the area subscribe to the Montpellier Quarters Retailers Group, which is responsible for the interpretation boards, brochures and maps which spread the word about its upscale Victorian charms.
Helen Sutcliffe of Sutcliffe Galleries at 5 Royal Parade says it’s the quarter’s independent spirit which has fed into its huge success over the last 25 years.
Helen said: “Anyone who takes the time to meander around the Montpellier Quarter, spending time in one of its cafes or restaurants or browsing through the shops, can feel a palpable passion for keeping Harrogate independent and truly unique.”
Success was not guaranteed from the beginning, however.
History: How the Montpellier Quarter was built
The quarter started as a small idea then grew, inspired by the vision of just three shops: John and Kaye Weatherells of Weatherells Antiques, Ray Osman, who ran the Catwalk Cafe, and Martin Wilkes of Lords Restaurant.
Although the last two establishments have now gone, the quarter has continued to prosper overall.
Kaye and her late husband John first opened a shop on Montpellier Parade in 1984 and it was they who got the ball rolling by converting the mews behind into shops, a cafe and restaurant.
Beginning with the physical transformation of the area, including the introduction of the famous cobblestones themselves, the traders then started their own PR and marketing campaigns, setting a template for other shopping areas of town to follow should they wish.
The quarter now boasts a very contemporary mix of independent businesses, including exclusive ladies and gentlemen’s fashions, hair and beauty salons, gyms, male grooming specialists, interior designers, kitchen and furniture specialists and Farrah’s famous toffee and food emporium.
Most of them are contributing to the centre-piece of the 25th anniversary celebrations - a Street Party and Late Shopping Event, called People Meet the People which is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, December 14.
Threats to independents
Despite its traditional look, the Montpellier Quarter can’t afford to stand still.
In an era of national chains, the threats are evident But Helen Sutcliffe says challenging times mean it needs to be ready at all times to adapt and change.
She said: “Twenty five years ago their were still family businesses in Harrogate town centre.
“Now only a small few remain and it’s largely a generic mix of banks, multiples, charity shops, coffee shops. You could be in any town centre in the UK.”
“We need to maintain the eclectic mix of quality, contemporary business and hope that the landlords and Harrogate Council recognise the benefits the Montpellier Quarter and other independent areas, and not out price the independents.
“Ultimately it is the independents, offering goods and services not found on the high street that attract visitors to our beautiful Spa town, filling the hotels and restaurants and boosting the local economy.”
Shops taking part in Montpellier Quarter's Street Party and Late Shopping Event on December 14
Sutcliffe Contemporary Art: Hosted by York’s iconic “Purple Man’, the gallery is holding a preview to their exhibition all entitled People Meet the People with figurative works by Harrogate artist Claire Baxter, Neil McBride from Easingwold, Sheffield artist Jamie Wilkinson, and the Lancashire sculptor Nicole Rushworth.
All proceeds of of £1,500 from a specially-commissioned a painting entitled Violet Vibes by Neil McBride will go to B-eat.
Claire Baxter is donating all the proceeds of the sale of her gift cards and 2018 calendars to B-eat.
The Spirit of Harrogate will also be providing their unique Slingsby’s gin for a ‘gin tasting’ in the gallery and the canapés will be courtesy of Galo’s Kitchen.
Galo’s Kitchen: a new family-run modern Italian run restaurant, which opened last week in the premises on Montpellier Street, formerly Van Zellers. Offering a special two-course set price menu for £20 on the night, with £10 going to B-eat.
Furnish & Fettle Interior Design: Hosting a champagne evening with donations to B-eat.
Lifestyle/&Hair Hair & Beauty salon on Montpellier Street: Holding an in house cocktail party with music and offering discounts on hair & beauty products. Plus donations to B-eat.
Rocca designer ladies fashions: Hosting a champagne reception with donations to B-eat.
The Palm Cafe (above Farrah’s olde Sweet Shop): Offering complementary hot chocolate and homemade mince pies. Also donating to B-eat.
Farrah’s Olde Sweet Shop: Offering 15% discount and donating to B-eat
H2K Beauty products & gifts: Holding a raffle of a 'Pamper Hamper’ with the proceeds going to B-eat plus three for two on beauty products for one night only.
Hawico- Cashmere and woollen specialists: Designing a ‘purple themed window’ with donations to B-eat.
Prego - Cafe & bar: Offering festive refreshments and making a donation to B-eat.
The Slug & Lettuce: Puttiong on festive refreshments, with complementary warm Rekorderling cider, with donations to B-eat.
The Montpellier Dresser - pre-owned designer fashions: Donating 10% of the proceeds of the sale of a size 8, Gianni Versace, black cocktail dress, designed by the maestro himself.
Tennants Auctioneers: Yorkshire Premier Auction House are Hosting a Valuation Evening with refreshments and donations to B-eat.
York Fine Arts: Hosting a cheese and wine tasting evening to accompany an exhibition of still-life work by British artist Raymond Campbell. Also holding a charity raffle of a custom made cheese and wine basket in support of B-eat.
The Montpellier Mews Antique Centre: Holding a Continental evening with the traders dressing in costume and offering French, Italian and Spanish wines and cheeses. The Mews are donating 10% of the evening’s sales to B-eat.
Home & Garden: joining with The Mews and the Continental theme, offering refreshments and donating 10% of the evening’s sales to B-eat.
Elegant Era -Vintage fashion: Inviting friends and dressing in vintage dress for the evening and donating to B-eat.
Jenny’s Tea Rooms: Serving chilli with proceeds to B-eat.
Major Toms Social bar: Offering 10% of food sold on the night to B-eat.
Space: Hosting a vintage-themed evening with donations to B-eat.
The Fat Badger bar: D onating to B-eat.
Richard Grafton Interiors: Offering festive refreshments, discounts and donating to B-eat
Rose Velvet ladies wear with bohemian chic: Offering festive refreshments and donating to B-eat.