Time to take a look at what town has to offer

In the Wetherby News published on January 30, there was a letter from Gary Cooper, proprietor of Castlegate Books in Knaresborough, pointing out that I was wrong in saying in an earlier column that the only option for Wetherby booklovers, following the demise of the bookshop, is to travel to Waterstone’s in Harrogate, Leeds or York – or to use Amazon.

I am very grateful to Mr Cooper on two counts, firstly because I rarely go to Knaresborough and had no idea that his bookshop existed and secondly, that he took the trouble to write a letter.

So, Wetherby booklovers, if you didn’t already know where to find an independent bookseller, you do now.

Small independent businesses need to be as proactive as Mr Cooper in promoting their offer, especially if they have an online presence.

Of course, there is another aspect to my comments.

Once people have to travel outside of their local area to find a particular item, whether it be books or any other product, the more chance there is that they will do more of their shopping at the same time, thus disadvantaging their local businesses.

Unfortunately, it’s a downward spiral – the more people use supermarkets and go out of town to shop, the more difficult it becomes for small independents to survive.

There was a time in Wetherby when one of the few things you couldn’t buy was children’s shoes.

When we first came here in the early 1970s, the Shoe Tree used to sell beautiful children’s shoes – my older daughter still remembers going there and being given a chocolate mouse as a reward for being good!

There was then a gap for several years when I came to dread having to drag the children off to Harrogate, York or Leeds and face the queues, usually consisting of what seemed like hordes of screaming kids, trekking round from one shop to another to find a particular type of shoe in the right size.

It always used to amaze me how many shoe shops had the children’s department on the first floor – which meant battling with pushchairs and unwilling toddlers up the stairs.

Now we have two suppliers in the town (both on the ground floor) and on the occasions when I have bought shoes for my grandchildren in one or the other, it has been a relatively pleasant experience rather than a miserable hassle.

If you look at the definition of ‘change’ in a dictionary, it has several meanings, for example, an alteration or modification; the act of making or becoming different; a new experience; the substitution of one thing for another, and so on.

When you take a good look at our town, as the Welcome to Wetherby team did in 2012, you realise that, yes, of course there have been a lot of changes - the world has changed, so why should we expect Wetherby to remain pickled in aspic?

A gentleman remarked to me the other day that the town is dying.

Is it? Think of all the new and not-so-new things that have happened - we have a wonderful cinema which is the envy of many small towns and gives us all the opportunity to see brand new films without having to go out of town, we have Tempo FM, our own community radio station, the Wetherby Sports Association, Grange Park and the Tennis Club, all of which provide a variety of superb sporting facilities, a band stand with summer concerts, a Green Flag park complete with a playground on Sandringham Road - I could go on and on if space permitted.

Think of the crowds who came to the switch-on of our fantastic Christmas lights and supported the Lions Dickensian Christmas event……dying? I don’t think so.

Do I hear someone mention parking?

Well yes, I think everyone would agree that it is a major problem which almost certainly encourages people to shop elsewhere.

The parking facilities and time limits have not kept pace with the growth of the town and the surrounding areas, but hopefully, they will be improved in the not-too-distant future.

In terms of businesses, I agree that we have lost a number of what I would call ‘useful’ shops, like the bookshop, but we still have a lot more independents than many other small towns - our food offer is particularly superb, with our butchers, baker, greengrocer, fishmonger and deli.

If you are re-decorating, you can buy carpets, curtains, paint, paper and DIY tools, all locally. No need to go out of town for any of it.

It’s very easy to be negative about things, but I feel strongly that we should celebrate the positive aspects in our town and put less emphasis on the negative ones.