While other high streets struggle to keep their independent shops, Belper’s thrive

Belper food festival
Belper food festival

According to the town’s independent retailers, the Belper high street is as strong as ever despite the difficulties reportedly being experienced by family-run stores in other parts of the country.

A report, published by the Local Data Company and British Independent Retailers Association, found the balance on many British high streets tipping in favour of larger chain stores at the expense of smaller, locally-run shops.

King Street, Belper

King Street, Belper

The shop owners we spoke to, however, said Belper’s independents were as strong as ever, citing an active town council, successful events and recent awards as possible reasons for their continuing success.

Tim Walker, owner of Classic Carpets on the Market Place at the top end of town, said business was ‘exceptional’ at the moment.

“I moved to Belper about 20 years ago,” he explained.

“Back then the town was completely different to what it is now, it wasn’t the kind of place you’d want to set up a business, not at the top end of the range anyway.

“But now things have changed, our turnover keeps going up and up and things keep getting better and better - the week before last we probably had our best week’s turnover ever.”

Over the road at Colledge’s furniture shop, the family-run store which first opened in 1902, owner David Colledge said independent stores were important to the town.

“Winning the high street of the year in 2014 certainly raised the profile of the town and we had a reasonable year last year.

“We aren’t Arighi Bianchi, but we’re doing all right - people are always going to need beds!”

But what of the less established traders in the town? Are they finding it more difficult to compete with the bigger stores?

Susie Vardy, manager at the Old Chic Boutique on Bridge Street which has been there for five months, said business was ‘really good’.

“The lady who owns the shop, Debbie Sheils, this is her first venture - she’s never done anything like it before,” she said. “When we were looking round, we looked at a few different places and decided on Belper.

“The high street award was a big factor, but also the friendliness of the people as well.

“People seem to really like the shop - they like the personal service we give them and the fact we have nothing over £20.”

And Paul Davies, who took over the homeware, gift and furniture store Time and Again, on King Street, in October, agreed.

He said: “We get people in from all over the country - from London to the Scottish Borders - but local people really appreciate what they have got in Belper and many try to shop locally if they can.

“The high street of the year was important, but I think the arts trail and arts festival are just as big a factor.

“I was a community artist in Belper before doing this and those events bring a huge amount of visitors to the town including a lot of people who have never been here before.”

Evidence of this active promotion of the town comes a few doors further up King Street at high-end off-licence, Liquid Treasure.

Its owner, Julie Wyllie, has been running the shop for the last nine years and has posters and window stickers displayed in her shop which show the efforts of the local authorities over the years to foster and cherish its local shops.

“It’s definitely holding its own - people travel a long way to come here.

“People like all the different shops and cafes and it’s an interesting place to visit.”

And further up King Street, Terry McVay, from the Creative World kitchens and bathroom store, said he had seen ‘ups and downs’ in his 16 years there, but this year had been their best start to the year in a long time.

“It’s very good at the moment - we’re booking for August at the moment and we normally only book about four weeks ahead,” he said.

“People like us as we can work more closely with the customer and this produces a better service.”

As for Belper as a whole, he says it ‘took a knock’ over the last few years but has ‘fought back’.

A spokesman for the British Independent Trading Association said: “Belper is fortunate. It has an above average proportion of independent shops and has a shop vacancy rate only two thirds that of the rest of the country.

“It deservedly won the inaugural Great British High Street award for Market Towns in 2014 and is a World Heritage Site.

“The only problem is that not everywhere is Belper, which is unfortunate for the rest of us. In the same regional analysis Loughborough, Lincoln and Long Eaton all lost shops.

“If nationally we start again to gain more independent shops than we lose, then maybe everywhere can be a bit more like Belper.”