Indies in Harrogate Pt 1: What’s Happened?

Background

I write this blog in a week where we have lost two indie businesses amongst the Harrogate hospitality community, they are very different and likely closed for very different reasons.  I’ve started writing it 3 or 4 times over the last few years but this time I really felt like something needed to be said.

As a community we’re all talking about the situation but many of us don’t understand what is happening, why it’s happening or what we can do about it.  This issue is a big tanker that isn’t going to change course overnight – it needs all hands to help and I no-one is taking any responsibility for moving us in a different direction.

The debate needs to be widened and this is my attempt to do my bit of that.  I’m going to lay out my thoughts, bust a few myths, make some suggestions in terms of action we can take and  get the conversation started about indies in Harrogate.

Why am I qualified to talk about this?

I’m not really but I’m someone who lives in town and owns two indies in Harrogate.

Baltzersen’s started blogging about indies in Harrogate back in 2014 and created the #ThinkIndie hashtag that you may have seen on Twitter.  We consider ourselves to be a leader in the indie community and support other indie businesses as much as we can.

I am on the management group at the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce which does give me access to a little extra information here and there and also means I interact with the wider business community.

I guess I’m what there is right now.

I’ll start briefly with what is happening…..(that’s the only bit of this blog that could be described as brief, might be best to make yourself a brew and settle in for a long one)

What’s Going on?

Goose was a relatively new business located on the Hornbeam Park  development.  It had a beautifully fitted out space offering cafe facilities and a space for kids to play with a collection of well maintained toys or for an optional charge to be supervised doing creative play in the craft area.  It was light and airy, immaculately clean and the food and drinks were very good and reasonably priced for the quality.  It closed it’s doors this week without a whole lot of information in terms of the reasons why but it feels like a shame, especially for that side of town.

Damn Yankee was the exact opposite of Goose in that it was an established business that had been trading for 40 years.  I have not been on the planet that long and in Harrogate even less time but I gather it was at the forefront of bringing American dining to Harrogate in the early days and was part of the fabric of the town.  The owners decided to close this week citing a number of reasons including the level of competition in town.

These closures are part of a trend of indies in Harrogate’s hospitality sector closing down throughout the town including; Yorkshire Meatball Company, Van Zeller’s, Salsa Posada, BED, Andy Annat’s Crackerjack BBQ, Bib and Tucker, Jakes and Runamocha.

Admittedly there do seem to be a fairly steady stream of replacements and businesses willing to give things a try as we’ve had the opening of Fisk, Mykonos, Papas, Souvlaki, Starling, Tah Chang and Buon Gusto to replace some of these operators.

Whilst the indies in Harrogate have been struggling, changing hands and closing there has been a massive influx of chain restaurants/bars to the town including; Jamie Oliver, Byron, Yo Sushi, Cote, Cau, Ask Italian, Gino’s, Nando’s, Five Guys, Revolution De Cuba, All Bar One, The Pit, The Foundry and soon ‘The Ivy Brasserie’.

Once we’ve gotten over the initial pain of the loss of the latest indie to shut it’s doors it’s usually time to get angry and start apportioning some blame.

Let’s explore some of the potential factors/culprits in the closure of these businesses.

Click here: Indies in Harrogate Pt. 2: Blame the Council

 

 

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Stuart says:

    We only have so much spare time and money. This means we can’t support every indie business in town, of which there are many. I tend to go to a place in town once or twice (dined at Major Toms, Starling Coffee House, Mykonos and Gino’s this month) and then try and find somewhere that is new to me. Harrogate remains a very varied and vibrant place to eat and drink !

    1. Paul says:

      Hey Stuart,

      Thanks for commenting. I’m completely with you – in part 4 (and I accept this multiple blog format isn’t ideal) I explain what we do as a family. We try to go indie for coffee and family meals out (which are quite rare) but we use the chains when we need to, shop at the supermarket for convenience and I buy books from Amazon for my Kindle. It sounds like you’re doing your bit for the indies you enjoy and that’s as much as anyone can ask.

      Regards

      Paul

  2. Andy Grinter says:

    Thank you! yours is a balanced, informative blog. I hope my comments lead onto further discussions about how towns and businesses can support each other to ensure there is enough profitability to go round,
    As retailers we’re all up against the Internet and out of town shopping experiences, but food & drink indies’ distinct advantage lies in the fact that you can’t eat or drink ‘at the Internet’; customers have to travel and it’s the same for hairdressers, nail bars and charity shops.
    The reason customers will travel, or more to the point will decide where to travel, rests with how impressed they are with the overall experience.
    That is why town and commercial centres must be accessible, inclusive, maintained and promoted.
    And promoting the town alongside its commerce is something local businesses could & should do more of.
    Who doesn’t enjoy a direct ‘top tip’ from a local who’s prepared to give a personal recommendation? And that’s because it carries much more credibility than a spurious entry on trip advisor.
    Town centre commercial viability depends on customers making timely, informed choices as well as bricks and mortar establishments contributing with outstanding service, but that’s assuming the customers are in town already or live locally.
    There is a need to promote the district widely to establish a through flow of visitors all year round and VisitHarrogate is the official destination management organisation (DMO) for the whole district which includes lest anyone should forget, Masham, Boroughbridge, Pateley Bridge, Knaresborough, Ripon & Harrogate.

    Collectively, we’d guide visitors into our district and then point them in the direction of outstanding face-to-face experiences, be it in shops, cafes, restaurants, retail or hairdressing businesses.

    The DMO needs content to pitch on behalf of accommodation providers, the accommodation providers need ‘top-tips’ to pitch to their guests and the local indies need renewable footfall to provide the confidence & turnover with which to reinvest in their businesses, staff and suppliers and continue to attract, entice & impress ‘spoilt for choice’ locals…all year round.

    Knaresborough experiences seasonal highs and lows and therefore fluctuations in footfall. August is the stand out month with regards to visitor numbers, but there is precious little other footfall data which means there’s no great incentive to act on anecdotal comments referring to ‘struggling shops & businesses’.
    In addition, the Tourist Information centre is shut at peak times at the weekend meaning that some accommodation providers are inevitably missing out on customer referrals. Local food & drink establishments will also be the losers because the ‘top tips’ from the accommodation providers is missing.

    The Economic Growth Strategy published by Harrogate Council concludes that high value, high wage job creation is the way forward but I maintain that for a town to be vibrant and sustainable and above an attractive place to live, work or play, then attention must be paid to the lifeblood businesses that help weave the very fabric that gives the town its appearance and all year round character.

    1. Kim Wilson says:

      I completely agree – as a local accommodation provider we do our best to encourage our guests to try something different to get a local flavour. We feel if we can get our guests trying for example today 2 ladies bought from h2k £40 worth of hand cream, 18 guests had lunch in town and every single one had at least 1 carrier bag of shopping on their return. However what I ask in return is something to work with, blog information (I only have so much time but you know your business best and have photos – send me something I can make into an article and we will publish it for you) As chair of Accommodation Harrogate our members are always looking for shops and restaurants to give some kind of perk to our customers, we don’t expect people to give away the farm but a little goes a long way. To often we find the restaurants at our door in January when custom is thin on the ground and we are ignored the rest of the time which frankly doesn’t make for a great relationship – it does go both ways.

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