King’s Mile, Canterbury: A Regal Reception from City Traders
While high streets continue to suffer nationally and regionally, Canterbury has held its own with a wealth of independent traders. INDEX casts an eye over how the city’s King’s Mile is coping – and holding its own – during the current challenging economic times.
As Canterbury master jeweller Ortwin Thyssen explains, the King’s Mile started over four decades ago with traders from Palace Street organising the first Christmas lighting anywhere within the city. But gradually, he says, the area has established and reinvented itself, owing to some careful investment and passion from its enterprising group of independent traders that have helped make it a hugely distinctive area.
Being the chairman of the King’s Mile Association, the experienced jeweller is quick to recognise the efforts of the area’s diverse mix of businesses.
Its rich melting pot of ventures range from fellow creative firms such as Sarah Wharton, of 925 Silver in Palace Street, and the Lilford Galley, through to a wealth of restaurants, cafes and boutique clothing shops that have drawn local and visiting trade from overseas customers.
While larger chain stores appear to be feeling the financial pinch competing directly against major online retailers, it seems the city’s concentration of smaller businesses offering something out of the ordinary are holding their own.
From hosting chocolatiers and specialist food stores, to stylish nightspots such as Bramley’s, it’s an area that has retained its strong sense of identity.
Though challenges clearly exist with the prospect of Brexit bringing a level of uncertainty for businesses within the region, as well as nationally, companies operating within the King’s Mile expressed optimism for the future.
Since being voted in a city survey five years ago as residents’ favourite place to shop within Canterbury, the area has enjoyed a continued revival.
With backing from the city council and Canterbury Business Improvement District, funding towards improving street furniture, began to make a significant difference during a two-phased programme of works.
As the King’s Mile Association Chairman Mr Thyssen (pictured right) explained: “In 2007 the council invested in the area by changing the look of Palace Street into a much more pedestrian-friendly layout and bright banners branding the street as the King’s Mile. From there, with hard work from the King’s Mile Traders Association, the story of Canterbury’s creative quarter developed.
“The annual Trick or Treat on the Saturday of Halloween is always a wild grand sweet affair, where the independent shops and restaurants are handing out sweets to a crowd of wild dangerously dressed up primary school age kids,” adds the chairman, who said the streets along to Northgate have also developed.
The Palace Street jeweller is also keenly awaiting the completion of an ongoing project to improve the street scene of Orange Street as a key route leading to the Marlowe Theatre.
“The King’s Mile offers an exciting experience to those who are looking for original art, craft, jewellery, food and drinks that only small independent artisans can offer.
“When I started my business in 2006 Palace Street was a way into town, today it is very much part of the city centre experience. We can see a big change in how busy the King’s Mile has become and also how people are taking time to enjoy the shops,” adds the entrepreneur, who says it has been a hugely rewarding experience operating his business that recently marked its 30th anniversary.
He added that shoppers are invited to the King’s Mile for special Design Days on the 28th and 29th September, where a number of design-based businesses are inviting customers to look behind the scenes and experience the flavour of creativity of the area.
Tricks ‘n’ treats
Furthermore, there will be plenty of family fun on Saturday 27th October with a spooky fancy dress Halloween trick or treat event happening within the area.
Another of the quarter’s real strengths is a growing reputation for its cafes and eateries, including Zeus Greek restaurant in Orange Street. The venue, which set up more than two years ago, has been enjoying a good measure of popularity for its authentic cuisine.
The family behind the business enthuses that the venue has made something of an impression on its customers, who have helped establish the business in the city.
“Our venue has a menu of creative and wholesome food using fresh, locally-sourced produce, with an array of Greek wines, spirits and coffees,” explains owner Mario.
“We’re focusing our food on dishes using traditional ingredients with a modern take, cooked fresh to order. As an independent Greek restaurant we chose this location in the centre of Canterbury on the King’s Mile, firstly as it is a vibrant city, and secondly it is situated amongst cultural and heritage landmarks.
“We have been running for coming up to three years now and this year, thanks to our customers, we are working on some exciting new projects to meet the requests of our customers. One project is Souvlaki Bros, a Greek street food truck – we can’t wait for the launch at Canterbury Food and Drink Festival.”
Another business enjoying a strong year is the Jolly Sailor pub in Northgate. Its landlord Ian Blackmore says with confidence that businesses in the area are largely weathering the wider economic storm.
As a director serving on the city’s Business Improvement District, assisting companies within the area on issues such as organising events, and working with the council to deliver major street scene improvements, he says this year has so far shown a fair deal of resilience from many businesses.
He said: “I think nationally we are seeing businesses experience some tough times for everyone, especially with the uncertainty of what will happen with Brexit. However, Canterbury, and the King’s Mile is bearing up well, which in part is due to the education sector, which has always been a help for us.
“Another factor has been that the weather has been so good this summer, which has meant residents have decided to spend more time ‘staycationing’ rather than going abroad for their holidays, and we’ve seen visitor numbers up from other areas of the UK, which is a good thing.
“The King’s Mile is Canterbury’s creative quarter, so once people have seen the Cathedral, it tends to be the place that they will next want to come and visit – we’ve had a good summer ourselves as pub, especially with England doing so well at the World Cup, the atmosphere was brilliant.”
Mr Blackmore added that the city’s Business Improvement District (known as Canterbury Connected), has proved instrumental in working closely with companies at the city council in delivering improvements to the area.
In his opinion, the final piece of the puzzle, the street scene works for Orange Street, which lead on to The Marlowe Theatre, will prove the icing on the cake for the area’s trading fortunes.
Images: Neill Barston & Sam Wiles