Harrogate - a centre with great long term business prospects
PUBLISHED: 01:16 17 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:16 20 February 2013
When traders throw open their doors in Harrogate, they tend to stay open. Jo Haywood finds out why Photographs by Elizabeth Savage & John Cocks
Businesses that make a success in Harrogate tend to stay for the long haul the long, long haul. Taylors, the tea and coffee company, started in 1886; Woods, the linen shop, first opened its doors in 1895; Jespers, the stationers, claims more than 100 years of trading; Bettys began serving its famous delicacies in 1919 and Raworths, the firm of solicitors, welcomed its first customers 125 years ago.
The latter was founded by Edwin Raworth part of the same family as newsreader Sophie Raworth. The business, which now employs 60 partners and staff, has always been something of a pioneer in the town and in the legal world as a whole. It took up one of Harrogates very first telephone numbers in 1899 35, in case you were thinking of giving them a call and introduced the first automatic private telephone exchange in the 1950s. It was also among the first to equip its staff with a word processor in 1973, and a mini-computer for accounting and debt collection long before the PC was available to businesses.
I am incredibly proud of our place in the history and tradition of Harrogate, said senior partner Christopher Butterworth, grandson of Jabez Butterworth, Edwin Raworths first partner. While changing and developing over 125 years we have looked after thousands of families and businesses in the area.
Peter Jesper, managing director of Jespers and vice-president of Harrogate Chamber of Trade & Commerce, believes the town can continue to create and support successful, long-term businesses if it plays to its traditional strengths while, at the same time, welcoming new ideas and investment.
As a fourth generation retailer in Harrogate, Im well aware of the challenges facing high street traders in the current climate, he said. Which is why reasserting and strengthening our towns uniqueness is crucial.
But what of the newer kids on the block? Will they still be doing business in Harrogate in the next century?
Jeremy Hopkinson, who received an OBE in 2008 for services to charity, is no stranger to the town, having worked there for more than 20 years, but it wasnt until 2009 that he took the plunge and launched his own estate agency, Hopkinsons.
The town as a whole has been very kind and helpful to my business, he said. And I can honestly say, were here for the long haul decades hopefully.
Business is healthy in Harrogate, for me and for everyone else. Theres a real feeling of optimism. But is it any wonder when you look at where we are? Weve got great schools, a vast array of national and independent shops and businesses, a top class road and rail network and, of course, the towns rich heritage, which gives us a strong basis for bringing in business and tourism. This town really is the complete package.
Penny Wood, manager of the new Lewis & Coopers store in Parliament Street, said shoppers and fellow businesses had made this long-established Yorkshire food, wine and hamper company very welcome since it opened in town at the end of November last year.
Our Northallerton store has been open since 1899 and we have always had loyal regulars from Harrogate, she said. But we were taken aback by the numbers of people telling us how delighted they were to find us in here.
Our Harrogate customers are extremely discerning, and weve also found that they generally seem to have a little more time to browse and to talk with the team and me, which is a real pleasure, added Penny.
Success stories like Hopkinsons, Raworths, Lewis & Cooper and Jespers show just how crucial business, commerce and retail are to Harrogates long-term prosperity, particularly when balanced by its rich seam of history.
And its with this subtle balancing act in mind that the magnificently restored Royal Hall is to be developed as a new visitor and heritage centre, with the help of a 45,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The new facility, due to open in early May when itll be known as the Heritage Lounge, will feature displays, artefacts and interactive audio-visuals tracing the history of Harrogates spa and musical heritage, and will act as an archive for generations to come.
Fiona Spiers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: This project will mean that one of the most beautifully restored buildings in Yorkshire will be brought alive with the introduction of new and exciting historic interpretations aimed at capturing the imagination of all ages.
In other words, when it comes to heritage, Harrogates the business. And when were talking business, its got a proud heritage. Surely, thats got to be the best of both worlds?
Getting there: Harrogate is just 15 miles from Leeds and 20 from York via the A1 and A58. The towns railway station links the area to the rest of the railway network, with East Coast Main Line running a regular service to Kings Cross. Local bus services are run by Harrogate & District with additional services provided by WYMetro, West Yorkshire Buses, First Group, Dalesbus and the community transport service Little Red Bus.
Parking: Theres a good range of on-street parking with additional long-stay spaces at Jubilee, Victoria and West Park.
Where to visit: Before you head to Bettys, which everyone does eventually, you could squeeze in a trip to the Royal Pump Room, Valley Gardens, Harlow Carr, the Mercer Gallery and all those fantastic shops (if youre heading Harrogate, dont forget your wallet).