A Chester city centre business has double cause for celebration after being named Best Contemporary Art Gallery at the end of its record-breaking 25th year.
The Watergate Street Gallery took the top prize in the SME News Northern Enterprise Awards 2021, which “represent innovative, driven and pioneering businesses and individuals based in the North of England”.
Owner of The Watergate Street Gallery, Alex Sharp, says the award was the “icing on the cake” after his gallery announced its best annual sales to date in 2021; in what was also its 25th year of trading.
“We’ve always striven to do something unique here,” said Mr Sharp. “But like most businesses, Covid19 came with its struggles.“However, we innovated, rethought our customer offering and diversified the gallery’s art collection, and I’m delighted that all the hard work paid off; not just with an increase in sales, but also by ending a quarter of a century’s trading as the Best Contemporary Art Gallery in the North.”
From virtual galleries on its website to free delivery and returns, the Watergate Street business has adapted throughout the pandemic to allow customers to continue buying affordable, modern art, alongside celebrating new and upcoming artists and giving them a space to showcase their work.
“Creating a place for emerging artists to exhibit has always been a focus for the gallery,” said Mr Sharp. “Sadly the pandemic put paid to that for many. So I think the fact that we still sought out those artists and gave them a contemporary space in which to not only display their work, but to also sell it, is the achievement I’m most proud of this past year.”
Rethinking the way the business operated meant The Watergate Street Gallery could attract customers from further afield: “Art has always been something people want to see and touch before committing. So overcoming that barrier to entry was key,” noted Mr Sharp. “We’ve innovated by creating Virtual Rooms where a customer can see what a piece of art looks like in their own home without leaving their sofa. And they can buy knowing that the piece can be returned if it isn’t the perfect fit in real life.”
“This award really matters to us, as it’s voted for by our customers,” said Mr Sharp. “And to be given full marks on the mystery shopper test was testament to the new team I have at the gallery pushing standards higher than ever.”
So what does the rest of 2022 look like for the award-winning art gallery?
Local to Chester, artist in residence at the gallery is Elizabeth J MacDonald who offers a contemporary canvas commissioning service. Art for well-being is very important to Ms MacDonald, and she has organised numerous events since joining the team in 2019 to demonstrate this.
“From workshops to raise funds for the NHS to taking art into the community; at The Watergate Street Gallery we look forward to hosting more events this year which focus on the healing power of art and the value it can have on mental wellbeing,” said Ms MacDonald.
“I think this year will be one for the ‘Indies’,” added Mr Sharp. “I believe Covid-19 was a catalyst for consumers, who realised the power in the purchases they make and looked to support independents, over the big chains, and to protect their local businesses.
“Watergate Street is a thriving example of that independent spirit and I look forward to seeing how our historic street continues to showcase the best of the city of Chester, and indeed the North.”
Published 16th February 2022