Love Your High Street: Whitby businesses speak of the challenges they face

The White Rabbit, Skinner Street
The White Rabbit, Skinner Street

Businesses in Whitby who have backed the Gazette’s ‘Love Your High Street’ campaign have spoken of how they’re coping with the growth of online shopping and explained the challenges they face in running their shops.

Graham Donovan is the owner of The White Rabbit, an Alice in Wonderland themed boutique on Skinner Street, stocking clothing and gifts.

For the past 18 months, Graham has relied on purchases made by people visiting his premises.

However, he is soon going to adapt to customers’ new shopping habits by building a platform to trade online.

He said: “It’s important to us that people physically visit our shop but it’s also important to be online because of the number of times that people come in the shop, see the products and ask us if they can buy them online.

“So, even if we’re not online we have to move towards that because it’s a case of balance between having a physical shop where people can come to look at your products but also being there online.”

Although trading from a website would almost certainly increase sales, Graham acknowledges that some income still needs to be generated by the shop in order to pay bills, rent and rates.

For this reason, he’s doing everything he can to promote his premises and the advantages of buying in store.

“I do understand the convenience of shopping online but at the same time it’s such a risk because you’re going off someone’s description and when it turns up you get a bit let down. If you come to a shop, you can try things on, you can feel them and sometimes it’s a better feeling than expecting something and getting disappointed.

“We also support local craftspeople so for example our jewellery is hand-made and it’s things that you would genuinely not find online.”

To further publicise the shop Graham has also been getting involved with local initiatives.

“We support local societies. We’re getting involved with Whitby in Bloom and when the Civic Society lost the information centre in town, they were looking for outlets and we said we were willing to stock the White Rabbit trail. It’s an opportunity to engage with the community while also letting people know that we’re out there.

“We have to do a bit of everything rather than doing things one way, this way or the other.”

Although Whitby’s annual events attract thousands of tourists every year, there’s a few issues that could be addressed to improve footfall in the upper part of town.

Graham explained: “Whitby is very good because we have events throughout the year such as the Goths weekend and the Steampunk that are really a massive help but people forget about Skinner Street. I think there should be more signs directing people here because we get so many people that didn’t even know this street existed.

“The B&Bs help because people are likely to walk down this way but someone that comes here just for a day trip, they get dropped off at the station and there’s nothing to attract them towards Flowergate, Skinner Street and Silver Street.

“Another issue is parking. Whitby’s got a very complicated parking system so it really needs to be simplified. I can get an hour here but if you go up this street less than 100 yards I can park for three hours. It’s just an overcomplicated parking system that could be simplified to help local businesses. That’s where I think the council could help a lot more.”