The cyclists may have been and gone, but what has been the knock on effect for Leeds’ independent businesses?
It’s safe to say that the success of the Grand Départ rolling through Leeds and Yorkshire surpassed all expectations. The city, bathed as it was in glorious weather, was seen by millions of people across the country, and indeed the world, as the cyclists set off from Leeds Town Hall.
It’s not been a bad PR exercise for the city or for Yorkshire. But after the dust has settled, those that were there making the city a worthy attraction in the first place, are still going about their business. So what did the independents make of it all?
Leeds’ independent businesses had more than a little reason to question whether what was coming would be good for them.
The presence of the Tour de France meant that the city and its suburbs were to be transformed not just over the Grand Départ weekend but across the whole lead up to it too. Road closures and transport changes can potentially have a huge knock on effect to the city’s businesses, none more so than the independents. A quiet weekend for a big company can be mopped up, but for a smaller company it can be catastrophic.
As Patric Ridge from Primo’s points out there’s a natural cynicism that couldn’t be avoided, “I was sceptical – excited but sceptical at the same time. It was one of those things that I didn’t realise how big it would be beforehand.”
On the day, two and a half million people lined the streets of Yorkshire as the world’s fastest men on push-bikes made their way through the county – and many of those chose a vantage point in Leeds.
The influx of tourism pounds means that it was an opportunity for all businesses, big or small, that needed to be seized. Those with the right ideas (and in the right places) were in a position to earn an make the Tour de France work for them.
But did it have a ‘halo effect’ on Leeds’ independent businesses? Well, for one bar recently opened by a Leeds lad, the halo couldn’t have shined much brighter.
It seems like The Decanter on Park Row found themselves at the epicentre of the Tour as it geared towards its kick off. Owner Alex had a rather unique experience that shows it wasn’t just the tourists making the most of what Leeds has to offer.
“We had the President of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme who came in with this deputies and chiefs on the Wednesday night” Alex explains. “They were sat drinking French wine all night, they loved it. It was a privilege to have those guys choose to spend time with us.”
I guess it doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Yet, not all are so lucky to have the top dog in their establishments. The key thing for businesses in Leeds will have been to capitalise on those wandering around after the bikes had set off.
As expected, tummies were rumbling, which saw a huge spike in footfall down at Primo’s as Patric Ridge points out, “Events like this are really important as it brought so many more people into Leeds. We were a lot busier than normal and got it all at once rather than spread out throughout the day. It was something that I hadn’t seen before, so for an indie business it was really good.”
Did it keep Leeds busy?
It was much the same down in Grand Arcade at Just Grand! Vintage Tearoom. As Janine points out, the celebrations seem to have had a knock on effect as to everything else going on in the rest of the city. So much so in fact, that folk were actively seeking out the places that make Leeds that little bit different from other cities.
“On the Friday we were very busy and on Saturday we were exceptionally busy. Everyone was in a nice, joyful mood, and it really set the tone for the whole weekend.” For these Leeds stakeholders, you can’t really put a price on such an event snowballing business their way.
For their neighbours at Our Handmade Collective, it was just as good, as Claire Riley explains, “even the Thursday and Friday before the Grand Départ that were really good days for us, and then on the Friday a lot of people arrived if they hadn’t already which created a lovely buzz and atmosphere.”
The extensive nature of the Grand Départ was all-encompassing across the city, even reaching out to the city’s famed record stores, one of which, being placed nicely on The Headrow, were willing to get into the spirit of it all, which in turn allowed to them to reap the benefits.
“We did have quite a nice display in the window and we had a lot of people taking photos” explains Paul Hodgson of Crash Records. “We had quite a lot of customers after the event but during the morning it wasn’t too busy. There’s a bigger picture though. There’s obviously a lot of people in Leeds who aren’t normally here who will have had a wander round, I guess it kind of balances itself out.”
Raising the profile of Leeds
It’s that kind of pragmatism that is important to note. While some businesses may not see an instant benefit perhaps in the till, it seems Leeds has positioned itself well enough to be able to capitalise on the recognition the Tour de France brings not just on the Grand Départ weekend, but once it is long gone too.
There is a real sense of pride in Leeds’ achievements from the city’s independents. The people that are responsible for the city’s growing independent scene are the folk who set it apart from every other metropolitan, and in that, they are the people who can see the city’s achievements in a different light to most.
As pointed out by Claire from Our Handmade Collective, “It has absolutely raised the profile of Leeds, without a doubt. From the coverage, the Tour de France itself, and everything that’s been going on with Leeds City Council, Yorkshire looked absolutely amazing on all of the coverage. It’s done us nothing but proud.”
Working with, and for, the people of Leeds is a great honour, and for an event of such importance and such complexity, it’s an example to those who have big dreams from small beginnings that these things are possible.
“I think Leeds has got quite a big profile anyway so I think it has embellished that.” Paul from Crash points out. “I think it has probably benefited some of the other regions as well a bit as it has been here, there and everywhere, but it’s a really big bonus for Leeds.”
And from the Tour de France, the city’s reputation grows further. The sense of being a part of something huge, the celebrations that Leeds hadn’t seen since quite possibly the days of Don Revie at Elland Road, meant there was a feeling of anticipation and respect that filtered through to the influx of tourists to the city – something that should become the norm as Leeds and Yorkshire continue to get the praise they deserve.
Can we go again?
But can we do it again? Leeds and its independent scene need to take advantage of every little step ahead it can get. While it’s fine to look back on the Grand Départ and nod to the positives it brought, surely it is time Leeds looks to its next big project.
As Paul from Crash Records points out, Leeds’ reputation grows year-on-year, so why can’t we have something each year to look forward to that bears testament to that belief? “It’s part of the bigger picture, if they have to close the streets off and stuff then so be it. But Leeds does in many respects go from strength to strength so long may it continue.”
Alex from the Decanter takes it further, as he looks to the city being more ambitious, “we need more of it. As a city we embrace it, people like coming here, it’s a nice city, and it has got a lot to offer, with plenty of independent bars and shops, and Leeds-List shows that. There’s a lot of things to really open people’s eyes.”
Not only was the Tour de France a success, but it set the bar, opening our eyes to what the city can achieve – and that’s something the independents are just as behind as everyone else. Now’s the time to big – so the question is, what should we take on next? The 2020 Olympic Games sounds feasible…
Feature image courtesy of Ollievision. Tour de France image courtesy of Laurie Cooper-Murray.