From: Chris Ramus, Harrogate.
As A trader of over 40 years in Harrogate and a current landlord, I would like to offer my penny’s worth on the current decline in trade in Harrogate and other town centres.
There has been many hundreds of column inches written on this subject, none of which sheds light on the ultimate answer to solve the problem.
Firstly, if Harrogate is in trouble, then heaven help other less glamorous towns and cities throughout the UK. Harrogate must be one of the most attractive places to shop in the North if not the country. If the wider public don’t know about Harrogate now, then they never will. Wherever I travel, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t know what a fantastic place Harrogate is.
I firmly believe parking costs aren’t a major factor here either. It will be with some people – if it’s an issue, then there is free parking within five to 10 minutes’ walk of the town centre. If you drive an expensive car, then for the cost of a litre of fuel you can park in the town centre outside your favourite shops. How many towns and cites worldwide, have free parking? Very few.
Then there is the subject of rates. We are told that the government sets business rates not the local council. They may be too high, but it’s not set by the council. If you have just one business premises, then you may qualify to pay no rates at all, under the business rate relief scheme. Then there is the subject of rents. Again there have been hundreds of column inches stating the obvious. If rents are too high, then tenants can either negotiate with the landlord or move premises to somewhere cheaper.
The elephant in the room is there has been a massive shift in the way we shop. Shopping should be a pleasurable pastime. More and more I get disappointed by the personal service I receive in local shops. The art of being welcomed by shop staff seems to have all but disappeared. Too many times, I walk in to and out of shops to the sound of my own feet.
If the pleasant retail experience has all but disappeared, then it’s easy to buy online and pay less and just receive the minimum of service.
The way we shop has changed, and it’s not going back to where it once was. So accept the fact and change with it. We can all stand and moan but it’s not going to get us anywhere. Change is inevitable.
Well-run businesses that offer service and quality products will survive. Those that offer nothing more than you can buy anywhere will die.