City shoppers are being urged to shop local as Sunderland helps celebrate Independent Retailer Month.
Taking place nationwide throughout July, Independent Retailer Month is designed to increase footfall to towns, cities and villages by promoting and supporting smaller, independent shops and businesses.
And when it comes to independent retailers, Sunderland is home to dozens of them, which Sharon Appleby, head of business operations at Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID), says the city as a whole needs to support.
“Small, independent businesses are the lifeblood of our city centre and I am passionate about doing whatever we possibly can to support and preserve them,” she said.
“While the big, high street names are vital to any town or city, it is the smaller, family-run firms which add a touch of individuality, and these need to be encouraged and supported as much as possible.”
From cafes and restaurants to professional services and local shops, the city boasts an exciting and eclectic selection of small firms, some of which date back more than a century.
Reynolds Outdoor Centre is the longest-standing, having been operating for more than 150 years, but there are plenty more which have stood the test of time.
These include Wittens, in Vine Place. This family-run jeweller has been holding its own against the big international and national brands for more than 50 years and remains one of the leading family jewellers in the North of England.
Collinson’s, in Crowtree Road, is another jewellery and watch repair shop which has survived for many years and continues to thrive, thanks to the team’s willingness to move with the times.
Sunderland’s Designer Childrenswear store, in Olive Street, is a huge local success story, so much so that it’s been shortlisted in two separate categories in the prestigious The Drapers Awards.
These awards are the most respected in fashion retailing – acknowledgement of this fantastic business which has grown to employ 35 staff over five premises, offering top brands such as Dolce and Gabbana and Givenchy.
The shop attracts shoppers from all over the North East and is one of the country’s leading independent children’s fashion retailers with a large online presence.
It’s a similar story for Aphrodite, in Vine Place, which was founded in 1994 by brothers Andrew and Duncan McKenzie and has now become one of the region’s most respected designer clothing stores.
Another family business which has grown and evolved is Muller, at Blandford Street.
The firm opened its first shop back in 1959 and now has three branches across the city, all selling cakes, breads and pastries baked using family recipes which continue to remain a trade secret.
Holmeside Coffee is another local success story which has won the support of customers.
Last year, a call for help in moving from its former premises inside Independent nightclub resulted in more than £8000 being raised in online pledges from customers keen to help it thrive.
Now it has made its home inside Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and continues to be popular with city residents and workers.
Another recent arrival on the food and drink scene is The Looking Glass. Located at Athenaeum Street, this bar/restaurant takes inspiration from Alice in Wonderland with its cool interior and prides itself on its high quality food and exciting drinks menu.
Dr Funkenstein, at Derwent Street, has been drawing customers from in and around the city since it opened back in 1997 thanks to its cool selection of fancy dress and accessories for all occasions.
Nail salons remain big business, and Blandford Street is home to the city’s own J’Adore Nails, which has a long-standing reputation for its high quality treatments and friendly service.
Ginos Handbags is a recent addition to Fawcett Street. It opened late last year and stocks a selection of bags at competitive prices.
Sunderland remains a hotbed for independent music shops, with exciting little stores such as Hot Rats Records, at Stockton Road, which continues to flourish as the world rushes back to vinyl.
Popular Pop Recs Ltd, a record and coffee shop, art space and live music venue run by Sunderland band Frankie & the Heartstrings, has also recently taken up a new home at High Street West, right in the heart of the city.
Independent Retailer Month is a national initiative which aims to highlight the role smaller retailers play and encourage people to explore these retailers for the first time.
At the same time, it also works hard to inspire these smaller business owners by encouraging them to create engaging events and activities throughout the month to try and attract new customers.
Traders are being encouraged to make the most of social media by tweeting with hashtags #IndieMonth and #IndieRetail and by taking advantage of local groups and pages to help spread the word of special offers or deals.
“Sunderland has always been a diverse and vibrant city and a lot of people have worked hard to build some very strong businesses here,” added Sharon. “Alongside the big names which everyone knows we have a thriving network of independent traders and these are what make our city centre stand out from the rest.
“ I hope people will take the opportunity this month to visit some of our independent retailers and support them.
“These small shops, businesses, cafes and restaurants are vital to the city and we need to do whatever we can to safeguard their future.”