Harrogate: What happened when the shops left town

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Cream teas, antiquated streets and stylish shops have made Harrogate one of the most victorious and popular shopping destinations in the north of England.

But there are now gaps on its Foremost Street like never before.

“Five years ago it would be unheard of to include large empty units on James Street, the prime shopping avenue in our town. Businesses were fighting to get into these units,” conjectures Robert Ogden, who jointly runs a family jewellery business on the in someones bailiwick.

This attractive spa town has weathered the huge changes taking task in retail better than most places.

But in the past two years it’s survived a succession of big name chains pull out, such as Topman, Miss Selfridge, Cath Kidston, Prezzo and Jamie’s Italian.

Profuse have been the result of restructuring deals known as company intended arrangements (CVA).

They’re a form of insolvency proceedings which struggling obligations can enter into with their creditors – including landlords and suppliers – to cut expenses.

CVAs have become a controversial escape route for retailers as it permits them to close stores they no longer want. Since January 2018, 23 secures in Harrogate have done CVAs.

According to research compiled for BBC Dirt by the Local Data Company (LDC), 1,676 stores in the UK have closed across these labels, including 302 casual dining outlets. The LDC found that 63% were pacify sitting empty by the end of August this year.

Harrogate along with Look over, Birmingham and Nottingham are the four locations most affected with 10 closures each.

“I hypothesize we all got a little complacent and thought it wouldn’t happen here,” says Mr Ogden.

Skill, service and some eye-catching jewels have helped keep his house trading in the same ornate store for more than a century. But he reveals Harrogate isn’t immune from the challenges of consumers’ changing shopping praxes as well as rising costs.

“The cost of trading in Harrogate is quite elaborate,” Mr Ogden says. “The rents are high, the rates are high and if footfall righteous drops off a fraction, it becomes less viable for these larger combinations to trade from Harrogate.

“We’ve got to start acting and reacting to what’s taking place, for instance some free parking would help entice more shoppers into metropolis.”

So, how might the vacant space be filled?

A few streets away, the Early Information Centre is still sitting empty some nine months after its direction did a CVA.

“It was all very sudden,” says letting agent Robin Hanson. “They left side and handed back the keys. It’s an old Victorian building and the landlord was left with all the gadgets and fittings as well as repairs. It’ll cost as much as a £100,000 to put right and re-let.”

It’s the toughest sell that this property expert has ever seen.

“Rent and have a claim ti are very big overheads, so landlords are looking at having to reduce rents. There’s a workshop just let in Harrogate at half the rent that the previous tenants were yield a return,” Mr Hanson says.

“The government needs to reduce the business rates susceptibility and I also think the council needs to reduce car parking costs.”

He communicates the landlord for the former ELC property doesn’t want to take his chances by let out to another retail chain. He’s after a local trader looking to enlarge on.

When Jessica Wyatt and her mum spotted a big gap on James Street, they decisive to make a move, relocating their quirky cafe, Mama Doreen’s.

Carluccio’s, the random dining chain, did a CVA and pulled out. The company had signed a 25-year lease as it promptly over-expanded.

Ms Wyatt says: “We’d been trading for 11 years and had premises moral down the road. We’d been looking for the right location to expand. We did get a fair to middling deal and our landlord has been lovely. He could see it would work and he’s bewitched a chance on us.”

The cafe has only been open four weeks, but is doing a cry trade, she says.

“It’s so sad to see all these empty shops. We felt like our companionship was needed in the town centre as an independent. We need more independents and we distress Harrogate to be back on top.”

Amid the turmoil on our High Streets, Lucy Stainton, mentality of retail and strategic partnerships at the Local Data Company, says there is tendency for new space and the biggest growth is coming from independent retailers.

“The summons facing national chains have presented an opportunity for local unbiased business to open in these once unaffordable locations using adjoining support and a new, authentic offer to tailor products and services to the local citizenry.”

While other towns are struggling for survival, the challenge here in Harrogate is to conserve it special.

“What we don’t want to be is a plush dormitory for Leeds or London,” estimates Mr Ogden.

“We’ve got to be a destination for shopping and we need to maintain that crown.”

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