Shop owners create ‘thriving villages’ to reinvent high streets

INDEPENDENT shops are helping to reinvent the high street shopping experience in Yorkshire communities hit hard by the recession.

Members of Thirsk Business Association in the Market Place
Members of Thirsk Business Association in the Market Place

From the market towns of North Yorkshire to the suburbs of Sheffield, groups of like-minded business people have banded together to make their areas attractive to shoppers and new retailers.

Some of the best are now hoping to be crowned High Street of the Year.

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Traders in Sharrow Vale Road in Sheffield are hoping to win the ‘parade of shops’ category.

Sue Ramsay, of Sharrow Vale Community Association, says the area used to be run down but is now a “thriving ‘village’ within only a mile of the city.”

“You can now buy just about everything on the street and some customers never go to a supermarket. Visitors, including parents of students who come from all over the country, are amazed by the diversity of shops and by the shopping experience.

“A phrase often used is ‘shopping like it used to be’.”

Around 14 new shops have opened in the last two years, bringing the total number of businesses to around 50.

Mrs Ramsay, who runs fashion outlet Petal Accessories, which started its life online, said co-operation was the secret to success.

“People have got together, with shopkeepers talking to one another. When a new shop opens we all rally round and offer practical help and advice.”

Her business partner husband Ian says: “Sharrow Vale Road’s 50 plus independents is well worth a visit because it’s a really nice mix.”

Local Labour MP Paul Blomfield said: “Creativity and vibrancy make Sharrow Vale one of my favourite places to shop in Sheffield.”

Sunday markets are held three times a year which involves closing the road.

In Thirsk - competing in the ‘market town’ category - business owners have used social media and networking to ensure shoppers and tourists know what the town has to offer.

Guy Baragwanath, chairman of Thirsk and District Business Association, said the town had bounced back after the economic downturn.

“When the recession hit, the town struggled and there were 15 empty shop units - now there is only one. When new businesses come in, they get help from the council with reduced rates.

“Thirsk has managed to keep the very traditional values of service and quality, whilst also providing modern facilities such as free public wi-fi.”

Working with other organisations, volunteers and Hambleton Council had helped create a “real hub for the community”.

A spokesman for the competition organiser said other areas of Yorkshire including Keighley, Leeds Markets and Northallerton were preparing their entries.

The deadline for entering is August 30. Winners will be announced in the autumn.