Shopping The Suburbs: Could Smaller, Vibrant Retailers Bring The Flavour Back To ‘Vanilla’ High Streets?

With new research showing that overall store vacancy rate across the UK has improved in the final quarter of 2021, could the rise of smaller retailers be the reason for the decline in vacant stores?

Although the improvement is slight, store vacancies across Great Britain were at 14.4% in the final quarter of 2021, according to the BRC-LDC Vacancy Monitor.

The rate of store vacancies across Great Britain stood at 14.4% in the final quarter of 2021, 0.7% higher than the same quarter in 2020, according to the BRC-LDC Vacancy Monitor.

Certainly the return to physical retail will depend on many elements, not least the desire from consumers to venture back into bricks and mortar stores after two years of reacting to Covid enforced measures. Additionally the UK Government need to build the plan, infrastructure and financial realism into plans for the evolvement of high streets including business rates relevant for the way in which retail has evolved.

Small really can be perfectly formed, as as smaller market-towns and villages regenerate – here are some great retail stores in a handful of quirky towns across the UK

Chapel Allerton, Leeds


Chapel Allerton is located north of Leeds city centre and boasts a plethora of small independent businesses giving a warm welcome and an authentic retail experience; from child-friendly bookstores and quirky boutiques to global eateries, hip cafes, and traditional pubs, this trendy location gives any city a run for its money. 

Nestled in the heart of Chapel Allerton is Chirpy, a contemporary gift shop and workshop space. Owner Jo’s passion for all things handmade is what “…helps to keep crafts and skills alive, while looking after the environment”. This must-visit independent store is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike. 

 The Little Bookshop is the only independent bookshop in Leeds dedicated to children. This little gem offers everything from picture books for toddlers to bestselling novels for teens. But, there’s more – they hold regular workshops and author talks, alongside daily story-time sessions. And while you’re there, it’s home to a cafe, where you can enjoy a cuppa and a slice of cake.

 At the southern tip of Chapel Allerton, House of Koko is one of the best cafes in the suburb. They’ll brew up a cup of North Star coffee or a range of loose-leaf teas if you need a caffeine hit. Hungry? Take a pew in the chic venue, which is also family-friendly, and tuck into everything from homemade baked beans on toast to Nutella and banana pancakes.

Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Woodstock, a market town in heart of the Cotswolds, steeped in history and home to Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the charming team at Woodstock’s Coffee Shop welcomes you, you can prepare for a perfect retail stroll through a triangle of stores that really care about service, community and charm.

With its own rentable pop-up shop Woodstock Pop Up, you can expect to see new up & coming offers alongside its art galleries and restaurants.

They say that good things come in small packages and that can be assured at Alfonso Gelateria. With just a few seats, it has a local clientele who regularly pop in to top up their reusable freezer tubs. The creator of Alfonso Gelateria is Lewis Ratto whose love and passion for gelato began in Rome where he was born and grew up. In fact the quaint Gelateria was named after Lewis’ Italian nonno – a true family business. Blending chemistry, food and retail, Lewis was keen to experiment with ice cream recipes and fulfil his dream of owning his own gelateria. With daily specials to keep regular customers intrigued, the store even has seen a queue form on a freezing January day!

For a fashion fix, visit Sassy & Boo which also has a further nine boutique stores in the surrounding area. Selling the founders’ own quality knitwear brand Luella, Sassy & Boo offers a personable service, with a loyal customer base and which has mastered a truly omnichannel approach. 

For sheer Dickensian style, be sure to visit Save The Children Charity Bookshop with its stunning period window. Literature lovers can also visit The Woodstock Bookshop which houses thousands of books, hosts reading events and festivals and has been shortlisted numerous times for Independent Bookshop of the year.

Northallerton, North Yorkshire

Northallerton is a bustling and thriving market town in North Yorkshire. With idyllic scenery on its doorstep- the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors- as well as nearby picturesque towns and cities, this is an ideal location for some retail therapy coupled with countryside exploration. 

 The home of Barkers, a century- old independent department store with its grand window displays and iconic clock above the door to its arcade, you’re sure to get a warm welcome in this family-run store. 

 Nestled in the Barkers Arcade is the treasure trove of a gift store, Boggle Hole, built on a passion for everything handmade in Yorkshire. You’ll find candles, handmade gifts, art and cards and more in this unique independent store.

 It wouldn’t be a trip to Yorkshire without visiting the famous tea room that is Bettys for a cup of Yorkshire tea and one of their renowned “fat rascals”. So if once you’ve shopped until you almost drop, pay a visit to this iconic Yorkshire establishment.

 Haworth, Bradford 

Home of the Bronte sisters, Haworth is a true chocolate-box village on the outskirts of Bradford, with its iconic cobbled main street adorned with truly authentic independent businesses from book shops, gift shops and art retailers to old- fashioned sweet shops and cosy cafes. 

 If you want to step back in time, feeling like you’ve just walked into an old fashioned apothecary then pay a visit to The Curiosity Society, whose curious owners travel in their Airstream to find the most beautiful items for their shop. 

It would be a sin not to pay a visit to A Wave of Nostalgia bookshop whilst in the literary destination that is Haworth, with a plethora of books for all ages, inspired by strong independent women over time.

 Feeling a little peckish? Hunters of Haworth is home to artisan pies and baked goods to make your mouth water. They offer homemade traditional pies such steak & ale as well as the more unusual rhubarb and ginger crumble pies, all crafted with passion by experienced chef and owner Nick.

The Tycoon Herald