With it’s ‘quintessentially Harrogate charm,’ the Montpellier Quarter is brimming with independently run boutique shopping destinations and a community dedicated to seeing it thrive together.
In our follow up to the Advertiser’s Love Your High Street Campaign, which launched last week in the build up to Christmas, we have continued our efforts to showcase the unique charm of shops and businesses in our town.
The Montpellier Quarter was once branded as the hidden jewel of Harrogate, now the owners of businesses ranging from antique and wine shops, barbers, tearooms, galleries say the ‘secret is out.’
Christmas however remains a ‘lifeline’ for many on the street, with the shift to online shopping, and a smaller number of shoppers travelling to Harrogate. But the independent offerings of the Montpellier Quarter continues to draw visitors, says Dean Baylin, co-owner of Jenny’s Tea Shop.
He said: “There is so much on offer here, with our specialist shops it’s something a bit different to anywhere else. People are coming from further afield, whether that is Sunderland, and bigger cities like Leeds, there’s a quality here that you can’t find in other places. It’s offering something not run of the mill, and it’s different from what you are going to find elsewhere.
“We ourselves are a traditional tearoom, using traditional china cups, our cakes are homemade and its family run. We have my mum and kids regularly helping out, and we feel like we are competitively priced, but try and be as traditional. We get a lot of older people who really appreciate it.”
Running the business with girlfriend, Joy Ansely, for the past three years, he said that businesses in the Montpellier support one another, many having banded together to form the Montpellier Quarters Retailers Group. He said: “We are all independents, and there is a community between us here.
“We all know each other, it’s a close knit area with no big chains. It’s really important to have that, because you all are looking out for each other. If someone comes here looking for certain things we can direct them, we all know each other and want each other to succeed.
“People do stumble across us here in the Montpellier Quarter, as they often don’t know we are here because we are away from the main part of town. Fortunately coaches drop them off nearby and they are directed to us, and the tourist information centre help.”
He added: “Christmas time is a lifeline for us, especially the Christmas market, it tides us over. It is a bit lean for us at the moment, inside often doesn’t get full this time of year. In the summer we are full inside and out, so the Christmas period is really important to us.”
Inside Harrogate Wines, its shelves stacked with over 500 varieties of wine and a recently opened upstairs tasting area, owner Andy Langshaw said he had seen a notable change in customers.
He said: “I think one of the things that has changed is that maybe 10 or 20 years ago, when people came into our shop, you’d see people come in with a handful of bags. These would include would Morgan Clare,and Bettys of course. You’d see it and felt there was some serious shopping going on, and perhaps you see a little less of those kind of customers now.
“Attracting more of these would help. We do still see them, but one of the things we used to see more of was people, coming in every three months or so from out of town and doing some quite serious shopping. You’d then see them in the autumn, coming back with those kind of items.
He said: “I think what we have here is some of the original ‘Harrogate charm,’ certainly architecturally when people think about Harrogate. When we relocated it was literally 40 yards, but we have moved on to what I think is one of the prettier retail streets in the whole of Harrogate, with upmarket boutique shops, fantastic clothing and retail offerings, lovely restaurant and art galleries. A real eclectic mix.”
With some customers travelling large distances to buy diamonds, vintage watches and pre-owned jewellery, Montpellier Jewellers is among the many destination stores the area can boast. Danny Yarwood took over the tucked away unit after more than 10 years of working at Montpellier Antiques. He said there is a need to encourage people to visit the centre of Harrogate and shop locally.
He said: “For me, I have people coming in and looking to spend big money on a ring, but parking can make a big difference when they have to pay for parking.
“It might be a psychological thing, and I don’t know what the council make out of it but I suppose they could say we could take it back and put it on your rates, I don’t personally mind paying to park if I am honest, but it does effect a lot of people.
He added: “It seems this year in particular the footfall is down, whether that is anyone’s’ fault, the councils’ or the way of the world I don’t know, but the internet has taken hold and people don’t want to wander around like they used to.
“For someone like me, my business doesn’t work well online, its not easy to list things online, rings and other items, that are all so unique. It’s not impossible to do, but it’s time consuming and I need people to walk past my window and fall in love with these pieces.”
Over the years Montpelier Mews has seen a number of changes, in the late 19th century it was once busy with guests of hotels, nearby ‘bijou’ apartments and lodging houses, stopping off to hire bath chairs. They would then be carried up and down Montpellier Hill by ‘pushers’, one of the traditional ‘old sights’ of Harrogate was these men lining the top of Montpellier Hill, and racing each other to see who could reach the Montpellier Mews store first.
After the decline of the bath chairs, the Mews became home to stores, garages and facilities for craftsman, but in the 1980s a major redevelopment was carried out. John Weatherell, the late husband of Kay Weatherell, owner of the Montpellier Mews Antiques Centre, turning the units into the special shopping quarter you can see today.
The impact of these development was not just limited to the shape of retail in Harrogate. Even after 20 years of operating Home and Garden, a specialty interior shop, Garry Faulkner still remembers the opportunity offered to him by Mr Weatherell which enabled him to start his business.
He said: “I started out with a few hundred pounds of stock, I used to be an electrician in a mining village, South Elmsall near Pontefract, and I saw the highs and lows of the industry. The village became quite poor, with no work or money. I came here and the landlord gave me a chance, let me pay weekly rent, and I was able to open the shop because of that, and I am still here.
“I couldn’t imagine that same opportunity for anyone else starting out today. I often say I wouldn’t like to think of starting again. 20 years is a long time, there was no credit card machines or Internet back then.”
Describing his own business and what the situation is for the Montpellier Quarter he said: “Its trying to create something a little bit different. Being independent is something special, you have to have passion to do it, but sometimes you do need help. Its hard enough worrying about rent and getting customers in, without thinking about parking and other things."
He added: “I think everywhere is finding it a little bit hard, retail seems to be quite flat just now and no-one seems to know what’s happening, even in politics. It does stop people shopping I think, but the Montpellier Quarter is a special place, it looks smart, kept tidy and at the core are these independent shops which offer something different and keeps bringing people here."
Inside the Montpellier Mews Antiques Centre, the shelves are lined with silverware, glass and jewellery. After running the business for more than 50 years Mrs Weatherell said that it was the dedication of independent business owners to be unique that has made the Montpellier Quarter so special, bolstered by owners wanting to see one another succeed.
She said “Its a unique area of independent businesses, the owner of the shop is here, they know their stock, they want to do business. If people didn’t come here they would miss out on the uniqueness and individualism, look at an area like Leeds and what it has now.
"For owners it has to be a passion at the end of the day, your paying the rent,rates, and for your stock. You have to put your heart and soul into it to do this."
She added: "I have noticed over the last few Christmases, shopping trends have changed, so many people do their shopping online.
“Saturday, used to be a great day for shopping, husbands and wives would come in on their day off, now Sunday is when they tend to do things, so Saturday has lost that magic.”
When asked what could be done to improve trade for businesses in the Montpellier Quarter there were often similar issues being raised, parking, business rates and a need to draw more people into the centre of Harrogate.
After seeing comments by William Woods, of Woods of Harrogate, in last week’s edition of the Advertiser, Mrs Weatherell said it was encouraging to see similar points being made by other businesses in the town.
When asked what could be done to help support trade in the area Helen Sutcliffe, of Sutcliffe Galleries said: “Introducing free parking and (reducing) the rates basically - that’s what would help .Maybe in the run up to Christmas, they could offer a free weekend to bring people into the town.”
“These are all independent shops down here, we are not Marks and Spencers, or doing everything online, they’re individual businesses and need that footfall.
She added: “At the moment people are not being encouraged to come into the town. That is why we have our own retail group, our own website, and are working closely together. It was founded over 25 years ago and do things at Christmas like putting up Christmas tree and lights, doing our bit to make it lovely and charming and promote it. But people still need to be able to come here.”
Concern over footfall is shared by Steward Aldred of Isles of Wonder, which sells British artisan products ranging from ales and lagers, books, homeware,beauty products and food. After 10 years of working around the world he said the Montpellier Quarter would appeal to retailers, from Philadelphia to Hong Kong.
Speaking about what could be done to help business at Christmas time he said: “There needs to be an incentive for “pop up” shops - there are too many empty units which I looked at last Christmas.
"They should allow entrepreneurs to trial ideas and concepts. It reminds me of Redchurch Street in London, cool indie bars, restaurants and shops. If you’re in the know in London that’s where you shop, not Oxford Street. The same is true in Harrogate.
“I don’t understand the guys that shop at the national retailers - why would you when the best shops with the most knowledgeable people are down here.
"The key for me is passion, just like the guys I represent in the town with their up and coming brands - their life is their product so the passion is there. Same for independents - that’s their life so the passion is there - where’s the passion in a national retailers shop floor?”