A few days ago there was a new addition to the Leeds retail scene. Not a big name, or a shiny new mall. Quite the opposite.
Handpicked Hall is home to hundreds of independent retailers, giving them a chance to sell in a city centre at a tiny fraction of the cost (and risk) of setting up on their own.
The shop is in Grand Arcade, Vicar Lane, which even regular Leeds shoppers may well never have passed, unless you frequent the city’s Grand Theatre.
It has to be said it’s not the most glamorous part of town; it has more than its fair share of boarded up shops, despite being just steps from the bustling Headrow.
But the enthusiasm on the eve of the hall’s opening more than made up for any of that.
Most of the sellers I spoke to at the preview evening said it was their first foray into face-to-face selling, having started online. They’re planning to sell there one or two days a week, with most hoping trade will be healthy and that it will make sense for them to be there more often.
As retail units in Leeds go, it’s a pretty big space – 15,000 sq ft - double fronted and spread over two floors. There are four ‘zones’: food and drink, fashion and accessories, art and craft, and vintage.
Because of its size, it seemed a little sparse at the preview night but I understand the Hall will be home to more than 300 sellers.
Like an idiot, I completely missed the fact there was an upstairs when I was there. That means I missed Our Handmade Collective and Love Me Sew. Plus, the upper floor looks like this. Like I said, I’m an idiot.
There aren’t many (any?) shops in Leeds city centre that can offer such an overhead view.
It’s fitting: Handpicked Hall is an innovative, ‘blue-sky thinking’ approach to retail; while the entrepreneurs, just starting out, are reaching for the stars and dreaming of where their business may take them.
Handpicked Hall launched last year, first opening in Ripon, then in Skipton earlier this year.
Director Anthony Blackburn said the Leeds opening means they are providing a home for more than 500 Yorkshire retailers.
“I think our success is down to the fact that we’ve made high street trading easily accessible and affordable for so many new businesses,” he said. “We also ‘hand pick’ all of our retailers to ensure we get the right high quality products and passionate people.
“The best part of my job is meeting great people with amazing talent and passion for their products, seeing how thrilled they are to be ‘hand picked’ and giving them the chance to realise their dream of having their own business.
“The space is amazing. To get the opportunity to work with such a beautiful Victorian property and bring it back to life with an eclectic mix of quality independent retailers is so exciting for everyone involved.”