Shoppers urged to support independent retailers hit hard by coronavirus pandemic in run up to Christmas

Shoppers are being urged to support their local independent retailers, especially in Harrogate, where Yorkshire’s job crisis has hit the hardest.

The town is normally a major shopping destination for people in Yorkshire, especially in the run up to Christmas, but the nationwide lockdown has closed all non-essential retailers until at least the start of December.

This comes as figures show Harrogate District had the biggest fall in job vacancies in the region, with a drop of 40 per cent compared with last year, according to research from the Institute for Employment Studies.

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Harrogate retailers have struggled to know whether to invest in staff or stock for when they reopen and whether, if they do, they will have sufficient customers to survive financially.

Independent businesses in Harrogate have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. (Picture: Gerard Binks)Independent businesses in Harrogate have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. (Picture: Gerard Binks)
Independent businesses in Harrogate have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. (Picture: Gerard Binks)

Sally Hindle, who runs clothing shop Bias, said it was “vastly unfair” that someone could walk into a store like Marks & Spencer and buy womenswear but she was forced to close.

She said: “It’s not a level playing field. One of the reasons people come to Harrogate is the independent shops and if the smaller independents have to close, nobody will come to Harrogate.”

While there was legally no issue with big stores selling non-essential items, she said it was “immoral” for them to capitalise on the sales that would otherwise be going to independent retailers.

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“We get the pandemic, we understand. But what will be left in Harrogate if the independents are gone?” she added.

Another independent retailer, Georgia Eckert, who runs Imagined Things Bookshop, questioned whether there was good enough evidence that small shops pose a significant enough risk to close them.

She said: “WH Smith is allowed to stay open. It doesn’t seem like anyone has thought it through.”

She took on three new staff before the lockdown was announced and has been forced to furlough them.

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She said: “We expected to need people during the Christmas rush but the lockdown has completely ruined those plans.

“I didn’t think there would be a national lockdown and I planned for people to be in the shop, so I stocked the shop hoping that we would have a good Christmas, especially after the first lockdown.”

The bookshop has a new online store but online orders are likely to only make up a fraction of what would have been sold.

“It will be a disaster if we can’t reopen until January,” she added.

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Sandra Doherty, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce said she felt it was “very unfair” that independent shops were forced to close while many multiples could stay open but that it would be difficult to administer a system where big stores could only sell some types of items.

Indeed, the Welsh Government came under criticism last month for forcing supermarkets to close aisles which contained items like books and clothes which were deemed “non-essential”.

Ms Doherty said: “Small shops which are only able to let one person in at a time would be arguably safer than big shops.

“I’m afraid most people buy Christmas presents in November and for a lot of small retailers they’ve lost their best trading month.”

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She added that the town needed both big and small retailers to survive and that the biggest threat to both of them was the giant online retailer Amazon, which doubled its profit during the last lockdown.

“In Harrogate, we do try and stick together. I’m just hoping lockdown does really end on December 2.”

Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate District Council, urged people to continue to support their local high street.

He said: “I’d encourage people to do their Christmas shopping online and take advantage of Harrogate’s independent shops virtually as a great many of them have websites.

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“It’s really difficult for businesses and I hope the community comes together to shop locally and help these businesses.”


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