Paula of Vintage Retreat recounts the story of the emporium’s journey from idea to reality…
Like Alan Moore, an elephant is a well-known resident of Spring Boroughs…If you look up at the sky, somewhere between the tiptoeing towers of St Barnabas House, the New Life building and Castle Station; you will see this rogue pachyderm perched atop the Northampton Business Centre, trumpeting its call: Shoe town folk, visit Vintage Retreat!
Vintage Retreat opened its doors back in February 2013, when the owner of the Northampton Business Centre, having long admired Northampton’s Art Deco architecture and possessing a passion for Vintage and Antiques, decided the space would be transformed (initially) into a small Vintage and Craft emporium. The business model was beautifully simple: offer a collective of traders and small business owners a means of selling to the public, within a warm, accessible environment that not only generated a sense of community, but crucially, didn’t require the trader to be present; as a team would be employed to manage sales on their behalf.
The vision for the store’s design and layout was to offer something unique and exciting – a place where visitors could while away the hours. Equally important, was to offer a shopping experience that not only offered amazing one of a kind purchases but also made every aspect of visiting a real pleasure. We believe this ethos greatly contributes to our continuing success and our loyal following of visitors.
As the emporium began to take shape the newly appointed management team were busy approaching local small business owners, crafters, collectors and Antique dealers and encouraging them to come and join us. This was no mean feat as at that time, there was very little to show in terms of a finished shop space and many traders joined us based on our vision and a touch of blind faith. We are very proud to say that many of our original traders are still with us today, almost 5 years later.
That said, after the initial excitement, in the weeks that followed our grand opening, we had our quiet days where takings barely covered staff wages and overheads. Despite this everyone involved, having given so much energy and effort in making Vintage Retreat a reality, knew we had something unique and were determined to make a success of the shop. After all we had convinced around 30 traders to believe in us and we had their businesses at stake too.
Persistence paid off. It was not long before the shop quickly outgrew its original footprint and we expanded into what was an old disused function room within the Business Centre. The acquisition offered us an opportunity to take a different aesthetic approach to the design and build: we decided to create self-contained shop units; each shop being unique in size and with different shop fronts echoing the look of shop fronts in the towns Market Square and St. Giles Street. This approach was a huge success and we still have long waiting lists for traders wishing to occupy spaces.
Whilst social media no doubt played its part in promotion and reaching a wider audience, we feel our greatest success has come from actually getting out and talking to people about the shop: flyering, attending vintage fairs, putting on fashion shows and good old-fashioned word of mouth.
In early 2014 we expanded further still using what was originally a car parking port below ground level and turning this space into our Cellar dedicated to vintage and retro furniture and larger pieces that we were struggling to house in the ground floor. This new space was much more simplistic in design due to the nature of the items sold here, however we still wanted to retain the open, bright, airy and inviting feel of the rest of the shop. By the end of 2014 both the shop and tearoom’s reputation were growing. So much so that it was decided to extend our opening hours to 7 days a week. As a result, we saw a real turning point in trade and our weekends were exceptionally busy. This increase in trade led to the expansion and relocation of our tearoom, which by January 2015 would be managed by a separate dedicated team.
2014 saw other changes too. A change in management led to a period of transition for the shop and it took a while for things to re-adjust. Some traders moved on and vacant spaces made way for a ‘pop up’ shops giving the shop less stability as sales and rental income ultimately suffered. That said the shop has always been in a constant state of evolution and its ever changing atheistic is in part what keeps us moving forward and growing.
Having represented the emporium at numerous events and fairs across the county to promote the shop, we realised that we had been missing an obvious opportunity. So, in 2016 we opened The Retro Room: a dedicated space which in addition to the shop and the tea room, enabled us to host a greater range of events; including live performance, fashion shows and private functions. The room is decorated in a beautiful Art Deco styling and is made using our trademark woodwork. Subsequently, we’ve employed an Events Manager and held a number of events and whilst the learning curve has been steep, the experience has been invaluable.
In April 2017 a new team were employed to run and manage the Tearoom giving a fresh approach to the menu and a diversity which has proved extremely popular with our customers. The focus is on homely freshly prepared food catering for all dietary needs with a large proportion of the menu being Vegetarian and Vegan. The tearoom refresh has coincided with a new look and feel to our flyers and promotional material and our overall aesthetic.
Today, the shop continues to be vibrant and exciting destination in Northampton; attracting visitors from across the UK and beyond. With now over 100 traders over 5000 square foot, we have just had our best ever month of sales in October. Vintage Retreat continues to explore new and interesting events.
Before the year is out we will have hosted our first Vegan Fest on the 18th November. Championing local vegan businesses and celebrating and increasing awareness of the vegan life style. Followed by a Vintage Christmas Fair on the 10th December. Despite being a community that celebrates the past, our focus is firmly on the future. An elephant never forgets.