When you’re officially crowned as the ‘happiest place to live’ whilst boasting the Harrogate International Centre, visitor and business tourism is almost guaranteed to prosper.
Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Harrogate for conferences, exhibitions or just to spend a day shopping on the high street.
Once here, visitors are not just met with the usual chains but can peruse the extensive range of unique independent shops that give Harrogate its character.
As part of the Harrogate Advertiser’s ‘Love our Indies’ campaign, this week we’re highlighting our independent gift shops, finding out what makes them so special.
From Butterfly Kisses to Exit Interiors and Magpie Cards to Pots 2 Go, shoppers are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing gifts in Harrogate.
Instead of picking gifts from the usual high-street chains, shoppers are treated to a range of independents selling their own personalised presents.
Sophie Harley, 30, is just one of Harrogate’s many entrepreneurs who have forced themselves on to the independent scene with her innovative gift business.
Sophie Likes opened on Beulah Street in February 2014 and has attracted thousands of customers who have fallen in love with her quirky and ever-changing range of items.
The store’s rise to prominence has made it one of Harrogate’s independent staples and also a shining example of the success indies can achieve.
Sophie, who studied fashion and marketing whilst at university, explained she wanted to open up her shop in Harrogate after spotting a gap in the town centre market.
She said: “We sell gifts, jewellery, accessories, homewear, all very quirky girly items. We just try and find different things that are a bit unusual.
“We’ve had a really good response from everyone who comes in to the store. We get lots of nice feedback and are really busy, especially in the summer.
“Tourists on a day out like coming in to visit but a lot of our supporters and customers are local people looking for unique presents.
“Our aim was to create a place where people can come and browse, have a nice shopping experience and find gifts that aren’t in every other shop or online.”
Sophie Likes isn’t the only independent gift shop that Harrogate customers have come to know and love with a raft of them to keep visitors busy.
Miss Claire Rose selling ‘lovely gifts for lovely people’ is a firm favourite on Commercial Street with hand-made jewellery shop Shine peaking customers’ interests on Kings Road.
Parliament Street is home to inspiring home accessories store Exit Interiors, as well as Collectables specialising in branded gifts, watches and handbags.
For the romantic shoppers, Crown Jewellers of Harrogate and Lilou Fleur are cherished indies while Evil Eye Vinyl is open to music lovers.
“Harrogate has become a place where people can come and experience a different shopping experience and feel inspired,” Sophie explained.
“It’s an exciting time for independents in Harrogate because there are lots of people giving it a go. Harrogate is the perfect place to have an independent business but they need to be supported by visitors and local people.”
Some of the products available in Harrogate’s independent gift shops, including Sophie Likes, have been supplied by The Great British Exchange.
The company, launched in Harrogate, aims to connect British made products with independent retailers in an effort to fill these stores with ‘exciting, new products’.
Anna Brizzolara, brand manager at The Great British Exchange, said: “We realised there was a demand for British made products but finding those products was difficult. We stepped in to do that.
“So far the business has been really good and when we have retailers or shareholders visit we use the West Park independent restaurants to entertain them.
“Harrogate is well known for its shopping scene and these independents bring visitors in. We want these retailers to have interesting products in their stores.
“There’s a lot of pressure on independents to make sure they are on people’s radar as somewhere to go and visit. We offer businesses something to make them stand out.”
But while independent gift shops in Harrogate are by and large a story of success, there are sobering examples of the pressures these businesses face on a daily basis.
Bathing boutiques store Mellow Treats shut its doors in March with Molly Mocculls on Beulah Street also closing last month as a result of expensive overheads and business rates.
Sophie agreed that business rates and expensive rates were a constant stumbling block for Harrogate indies and urged residents to consider where they’re spending their money.
She said; “It’s the same old story with business rates. They really are still very expensive in Harrogate, it’s a massive cost to us.
“We want to be in a central position and be part of Harrogate’s high street but unfortunately high business rates come with that. It puts a lot of people off opening an independent in Harrogate.
“Landlords also need to understand that when you are starting out it’s hard but there are still big costs to deal with.”
George Osborne announced in the budget that 600,000 small businesses would no longer have to pay business rates and he would change how the levy was calculated.
The permanent doubling of small business rate relief means that businesses with a rateable value of £12,000 and under will no longer have to pay rates from April 2017.
However, Sophie explained that the benefits the Chancellor announced in March would not apply to many shops in Harrogate town centre as they do not fall into that bracket.
She said: “Most shops in the centre of Harrogate are not in that bracket, we are in the category of small independents but the rateable value is still £15k and that is very low.
“So unfortunately there will still be a lot of places where it’s over that and will have to be paying big business rates. It’s really tough and we need a bit of help instead of people working against us.”
In last week’s ‘Love our Indies’ campaign, independents stressed the need to work together to promote, recommend and advertise each other’s businesses.
Baltzersens owner Paul Rawlinson explained he wrote an online blog to advertise fellow independents; an idea that Sophie has followed.
In an effort to better promote the independent shops in the area, Sophie has launched a ‘Beulah Street’ Twitter and Facebook account and has urged other independents to work together.
She said: “We need to create a bit of awareness because otherwise Harrogate will become a town where nobody visits because it’s no different to the cities.
“We need to not see other independents as competition and seeing them as a group. We want to have a community of independents out there.
“There have been some recent closures so we are trying to create a brand for an area. It’s very early days but we thought we would get out there and create word of mouth.”
Despite the recent closures of the two independent gift stores, as well as landmark independent Bed restaurant, Sophie is now calling on residents to support the Advertiser’s ‘Love our Indie campaign’.
“I think Harrogate is always going to be a place where people visit. We’ve got a reputation as a nice local community where people can come for the day but there has to be something to come and see,” Sophie said.
“The more shops that open, the more of an exciting place it will be to come to. But, if they start shutting people will start asking why did I come to Harrogate because there’s nothing really there apart from the chains.
“It’s really important that people are not put off by opening these businesses for the sake of Harrogate.”