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Independent Shops In Guildford Are 142 Not Out!

Published on: 26 Jun, 2019
Updated on: 29 Jun, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

I asked a friend recently how many independent shops there were in the town centre. Long thinks and then a confident answer: “Fifteen” he said.

But he, and many others asked, were wrong. Guildford actually boasts 142 indies in the town centre in the relatively small area served by the Experience Guildford team. That is over 40 more than the big name stores that Guildford is supposedly renowned for.

Map showing the Independent shops in Guildford town centre. They are mainly off  High Street and North Street and in the upper High Street, Chertsey Street and in the side alleys and passages. Click on the image to enlarge it.

And that’s not even counting the independent shops and businesses outside the centre, along Stoke Road (at least 13), Woodbridge Road (another 20, at least), or the other side of the river in Walnut Tree Close or any of the other busy roads outside of the town centre.

From tattoo artists, tailors, teddy bears and tea rooms, hotels to hairdressers, to hydroponics and keeping fit, Guildford has it right there in the town.

Jeffries Passage winds between the High Street and North Street with more than a dozen Indies to explore.

Angel Gate leads off from the historic Angel Hotel in the High Street with restaurants, a flower shop and clothes shops to discover.

Why do we consistently underestimate the number of indies? It’s not the lack of quality or range of these shops. The opposite is probably true.

It may be that the big shops are so strong on brand awareness, their presence gets right into our psyche; we recognise them by their logo and sometimes even just by their colour and we remember them. We may see the flower shop in Angel Gate but do we remember its name (*see the bottom of the article)? We do, however, know and remember there is a Boots and a Marks & Spencer in the High Street.

The indies are also less visible being in the quieter side streets. The prime locations have the highest number of people walking past, but they command the highest rents. Mothercare in North Street was said to cost £250,000 each year in rent and business rates alone. What independent trader could afford that?

Swan Lane is one of the medieval lanes in the town with quite a few indies to look around.

Chapel Street, another of the medieval lanes in the town, has established itself as on of the most popular areas to eat out, from Thai to Greek and Italian restaurants and fast food outlets as well.

To enjoy the town centre indies, you have to go off the main drag and into the narrow, winding, quirky side streets. Many of the lanes, such as Market Street, Swan Lane, Jeffries Passage, Chapel Street and Bakers Yard, were originally from the 10th century medieval street layout and they are well worth a visit.

Apart from the pleasure of visiting the unique shops and locations, there are huge, but less obvious, advantages to favouring the indies. Shopping in a supermarket or ordering an online meal is convenient and tempting but less of the money spent in large businesses or, especially online, stays in the town. It is estimated that 63p in the pound spent with a small trader will stay in the local economy compared to 40p with a large business and down as low as 5p for purchases online.

And, according to a study in 2013, house prices are boosted in towns where small traders prosper.

In a time when things are tough in retail, there is a strong case that Guildford’s resilient independent traders are good for the town and should be supported.

The Experience Guildford Proudly Independent poster.

Tunsgate in the evening.

Milkhouse Gate, a tiny alley between the High Street and Sydenham Road, has a charming square at one end.

(* The Secret Garden by the way)

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