Visit Harrogate backs town's indies
A leading figure in Harrogate's tourism sector says the 'indies' can play a crucial role overcome challenging times for the town centre.
And he is keen to see new plans for a Harrogate 'Restaurant Week' and Harrogate 'Indies Trail' turned into a reality.Richard Spencer, chief executive of Visit Harrogate, said town centre shops and businesses were facing a shock to the system because of several factors such as the power of the internet, austerity and the Brexit effect.But he was confident Harrogate had a unique set of strengths which meant it would prosper, especially if plans to turn.the town into a BID (or Business Improvement District) are successful.
He said: "I'm very hopeful where we're heading as a town. We're in a period of great change which is proving a shock to businesses, who face rising overheads such as the business rates reevaluation and the national living wage."But Harrogate is a uniquely beautiful town and it's being hit less hard than other destination towns."The number of empty retail units here is actually below the national average and we are in a good place to carve out our own niche."Unlike other places, we still have a local authority that is investing in the town's infrastructure in a significant way."
Visit Harrogate, a private sector-led organisation which aims to attract an extra million visitors to the Harrogate district by 2020, recently published an Eat: Drink Harrogate guide containing 50 local bars, cafes and restaurants.As well as increasing the number and frequency of public events in Harrogate town centre in general, Richard Spencer believes the town needs to do more to maximise the potential of its independent sector.
He said: "We're already in talks with business operators and retailers on Cold Bath Road, the Montpellier Quarter, West Park and Commercial Street about leafleting and creating an Indies Trail."We should definitely have Restaurant Week for Harrogate, too. We do need a mix of chains and indies in the town but at the end of the day it is our independent businesses which are a key brand attribute for visitors to Harrogate."
His comments follow a major feature in this newspaper last week in which the town's Chamber of Commerce and local businesses called for improvements to be made to protect Harrogate's high street offer.
The reaction from readers via the Harrogate Advertiser's Facebook page ranged from everything from "Harrogate is looking like a ghost town" to "no good blaming all and everybody else, we need to be looking at ourselves and our buying habits."Concern in some quarters of the town was heightened by shock news last week that one of Harrogate's leading restaurants, the award-winning Norse, had found the going so tough it has been forced to close.
Among the other major projects Visit Harrogate is keen to play its part in, is the transformation of Harrogate into an 'intelligent city.'A growing trend across America where they are also known as 'smart cities', it would involved the town embracing digital technologies to enhance performance of devices and services to improve the well being of citizens, businesses and visitors.Included would be free Wi-Fi across the town centre, partly to link up shoppers' smart phones to local shops.