The leader of Chester’s Business Improvement District, CH1ChesterBID has hailed the positive impact that small and independent businesses are having on Chester’s high street and urged Cestrians to support their city centre.
New traders from across Chester came together for a special welcome event to celebrate the launch of their stores and talk more about the secrets to their success in spite of the challenges being faced by high streets up and down the UK.
Organised by CH1ChesterBID, seven new stores that have opened their doors in the last few months attended the event, including coffee shop Bean and Cole, botanical workshop Violet Palm, Italian restaurant Da Noi, and wine merchant and delicatessen Whitmore and White.
“Business rates, online shopping and Brexit are just some of the things creating a challenging trading environment, yet we’ve got some amazing new small and independent stores setting us up for a brighter future in Chester city centre,” said Carl Critchlow, BID Manager at CH1ChesterBID.
“It was fantastic to be able to bring them together and we’re fortunate to have some incredibly ambitious and entrepreneurially-minded business owners making a big impression in the city. Their success is good news for everyone invested in the future of our high street and we’re keen to support them and to help them grow.
“There’s no doubt that high streets across the UK are facing some major challenges and Chester has felt its fair share of that. I sometimes see and hear comments about the demise of Chester with people comparing it to how things were 20 or 30 years ago, but the reality is that consumer behaviour has changed, and our high street is evolving with it.
“These seven new businesses are great examples of that and what’s absolutely clear is that we have lots of traders that are doing well despite the current climate. They’re helping to change the face of our high street for the future.”
Chester’s popular appeal was again confirmed recently after a YouGov poll of more than 55,000 people across the country ranked it the fourth best city in the UK. Only York, Bath and Edinburgh came above Chester in the list of 57 UK cities.
Recent figures from Marketing Cheshire have shown that the number of tourists and day visitors to Cheshire West and Chester has also increased, with 35 million visitors in 2017 and the visitor economy exceeding £2 billion for the first time.
“Chester’s appeal to both visitors and tourists continues to grow and is testament to the world-class customer experience our businesses deliver,” added Carl.
“However, their spending habits are very different to that of a local shopper and that’s why we are calling on Cestrians to do more to support their city centre.
“Our traders need local people to spend money with them and to take pride in their city centre. A visit to the high street offers an experience that you simply can’t get on a smartphone or a tablet, so we need people to get out and explore everything their city centre has to offer.”
Milli Ball, owner of the Flower Cup coffee shop and the recently opened Violet Palm on Watergate Street, agrees that getting more Cestrians behind local businesses is key.
She said: “We’ve always tried to provide something a bit different as a botanical coffee shop which makes people want to find us up on the rows and customer service has been key to create a loyal customer base. We have a great following of regular customers and its thanks to them we can continue doing what we love.
“Although we’re still a young business, we’re going in the right direction and the decision to open The Violet Palm was based on my belief that people want a unique experience from their local high street. We’re already running florist, ceramic, pumpkin carving workshops and lots more!”
Ian McArdle and Nicole Dykes, owners of Frodsham Street coffee house, Bean & Cole, agreed that offering something different was essential.
“We want to provide great customer service in an atmosphere where people feel relaxed,” said Ian. “We are passionate about coffee and have positive and knowledgeable staff that really contribute to that.
“There’s a bit of a cafe revolution in Chester at the moment and I think that’s a sign of the times – people want to go somewhere where they can meet up with friends, maybe do a bit of work on the go or just take a break and watch the world go by.
“If you can provide great customer service, I think you can ensure that people want to come back to you again and again because you just don’t get that interaction from shopping online all the time.”
Sam Ryley, owner of Canteen Creative Productions, and the founder and photographer for independent city centre magazine Tortoise, added: “I think we’re seeing a lot of originality on the high street in Chester, which is being driven by small and independent traders. It’s really exciting to be a part of that.
“Savvy business owners have realised that they need to create something different to entice people to become customers and to get them to return. Sitting back and waiting for people to walk through the door just doesn’t work in 2018 – you need to be creative and proactive in your approach and people will respond to that.”
Campaigns such as Love Local – a loyalty reward scheme created by CH1ChesterBID to support the city’s small and independent businesses – have proved to be popular with local shoppers.
The scheme was recently extended for an additional 12 months after more than 1,700 people got involved during the six-week summer holiday period this year.
“The Love Local scheme has been brilliant and it’s another example of how Chester’s small and independent businesses are working together to support the future of our high street”, said Carrie Hyndman, co-owner of The Second Floor with Kimberley Anderson on Northgate Street – an independent store where customers can also listen to music, learn a new skill at a variety of workshops, drink coffee and socialise.
“I think people want more than just a retail experience these days, which is why we offer a variety of things in the store. We’re blessed to have such a gorgeous city centre where people want to spend their time, but we can’t take anything for granted. We have to work hard to convince people to stay longer and continue spending their money in stores like ours.”
Valentina Aviotti, Co-Founder and Taste Director at Italian restaurant Da Noi, which opened in August, added: “Chester felt like the perfect location for us. There are lots of international visitors who love how pretty the city is, so we’re proud to be a part of it now.
“The choice of restaurants here is very good too and the city is earning a reputation as a place to eat great food, so we’re really excited about the future.”
The beauty of the city also attracted wine merchant and delicatessen, Whitmore and White. Owner, Joe, Whittick, said: “Chester is absolutely stunning in terms of scenery and I think sometimes it can be easy to take that for granted, especially if you live locally and see it all the time.
“For us, it’s a great location to be and we think there’s a real market for a business like ours in the city. International visitors are great, but the key to success for us will be turning people who live in Chester and the surrounding areas into regular customers. We’re really looking forward to making our mark here.”
For more information about CH1ChesterBID, visit www.ch1chesterbid.co.uk