While the humble high street is rumoured to become a thing of the past, this couldn’t seem further from the truth considering the number of people who stopped in to say hello when we met with Leeds’ independent cafe owner, Carole Taylor.
“[if I were a plant] I’d probably be a something like a Eucalyptus tree – simply because they’re really hardy, they last for years and they make people feel so good because they smell amazing.”
Part of the bustling Chapel Allerton high street Carole’s unique florist come cafe, The Perfumed Garden, is part of a wider local business community.
Having previously owned six shops, Carole and her husband, Robin, decided to sell up and go travelling. However, fate had other ideas and they ended up taking over Robin’s mother’s florist shop which needed serious modernisation.
After redesigning and developing the shop one of her corporate clients, who knew about Carole’s love for coffee, offered her a coffee machine in exchange for three large bouquets. Once the order was completed, both Carole and Robin were shocked when a van turned up to unload a professional barista machine.
It sadly wasn’t until Robin’s mother passed away that the coffee machine got some proper use. They held the wake at the shop and invited all the guests and the florist’s regulars to join. When their hired barista cancelled last minute, they both jumped behind the counter and served coffee until 7 o’clock that night.
“[all customers were saying] We should serve coffee all the time. It would be really nice in this space, it makes you feel really calm – it would be nice to have a drink.”
Carole, who doesn’t eat dairy, had long since noticed that there was a gap in the market for something special.
“Everything we do is vegan – I won’t say I’m vegan – I’m plant-based. Because there was nowhere else around here doing this, and we’re a flower and plant shop, it makes sense to serve coffees with non-dairy and have cakes made from plants – because that’s what we are.”
Flash forward 18 months and The Perfumed Garden is delighting both plant and coffee lovers alike under one roof. However, Carole has noticed the change in the local high street. “It’s not the same at all – we’ve got 3 supermarkets within a really tiny space.”
With an Aldi, a Lidl and a Tesco all on The Perfumed Garden’s doorstep, competition is hard to keep up with. But Carole, who has an infectious positive personality, see’s the brighter side of things.
“The good thing about this is it’s stopped people coming in here and spending £2.99 on a bunch because for us that’s a lot of money – to buy those materials to make that tiny bunch.”
While the shop does have a lot of loyal, repeat customers, Carole has noticed a drop in those one-off shoppers.
“People will pick a supermarket over a small indie shop.”
“Because we’re retailers ourselves, we go to other retailers because we know what situation they’re in. We know how difficult it is to get that customer to actually come through your door and part with some money.”
She does, however, think that selling the coffee has made a difference to her business.
“The good thing about the coffee for us is that most people know that they can afford a cup of tea or a coffee. So, even if they haven’t been in before they’ll come in and buy a drink then have a look around and go ‘oh, actually – you’re not very expensive.
They might not buy anything there and then we know they’re going to come back because they’ve been in and kind of broken that barrier”
Looking to the future, Carole is confident that things are looking up for local business owners.
“I do feel like this year, more than any other year, people do seem to be making more of an effort to spend their five or ten pounds in a smaller shop.
People are really starting to think ‘hang on a second, your high-street is going to look really ugly if all us little independents can’t pay our rents. So, fingers crossed, next year I’m hoping will be a cracking year.”
The Perfumed Garden, 19 Harrogate Rd, Leeds LS7 3PD