Bedford has more independent shops than Cambridge, so it was about time we celebrated the brilliant and unique businesses at the heart of our town.
Barely a day goes by without discussions about the future of the High Street and town centres, but one thing is for certain, the creativity, passion and community spirit of our independent businesses will be the key to their survival.
The winners will be announced on 25 March 2021 at 7:30 pm on our website, Facebook Page and YouTube channel.
Independent Retailer of the Year – sponsored by Brewpoint
Beerfly (two nominations)
Beerfly opened in 2018 and their nominator said: “the range of beer products and knowledge of products is great as well as the great community of visitors to the shop.”
The shop also put on the Hops and Dreams beer festival at the Harper Suite. Many of the volunteers that helped at the event were customers of the shop and were there to help support Beerfly and its owner, Tim Edwards.
Beerfly’s Bedford Homebrewer’s Club, which gave the opportunity to have a beer brewed commercially and served at Hops and Dreams, hosting the first “St. Cuthbert’s Street Party” with Herd and local music collective Roll Your Own Records.
They also hold regular collaborations with other local businesses such as Brewhouse & Kitchen on special beers and supporting Record Store Day with Slide Record Shop and supporting the Town Centre Champions’/Totally Locally FiverFest.
Boutique Planet’s nominator said: “They have weathered economic storms well, and continued to provide the people of Bedford with outstanding customer service coupled with a unique, personal and community-inspired shopping experience.
“In a world of online trade, you can always reply on Boutique Planet to provide the most charming of shopping experiences. Owners, Nick and Jo, strive to create a relaxed, friendly and hassle-free shopping environment where customers are free to browse at their leisure with knowledgeable staff on-hand to offer as much or as little advice as required.
“This could be as simple as making customers a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and leaving their customers to shop in peace, or providing a full-on personal shopping service. They are very conscious of the impact the fashion industry has on the environment and are very careful to only select suppliers that are too.
“This means they now offer more recycled, sustainable fabrics. They also recently ran a pre-loved sale with Anorak where customers could sell their unwanted clothes using their shops as platforms and supporting their vision for more sustainable fashion.
The nomination for Caffe Crema read: “We’ve been regulars at Caffe Crema for years and think it deserves recognition for everything it brings to the town.
It symbolises all that is great about Bedford – bursting with character, a real melting pot and passion for creativity, all neatly packaged in an attractive, intimate and well-located spot on the High Street.
The customer service is legendary ‘Cheers’ style – where everybody knows your name. The camaraderie and theatre between them generate a very welcoming ambience that you sense as soon as you push open the doors.
And that spills over to the customers who often share a smile and a nod with each other – breaking across ages, cultures and languages The counter has been updated to improve health and safety and to maintain the level 5 hygiene rating. And of course, there’s the coffee…!”
“Eagle Travel’s high levels of repeat business and testimonials are proof of the team’s exemplary levels of customer service and collective knowledge of the travel industry, but also importantly the local area and community; something that is not available when booking a holiday online or through a chain,” said their nomination.
Their award-winning service has seen them recognised as “Luxury Travel Agency of the Year” and they won the ‘Extra Mile’ award at the Aspire Luxury Awards, and ‘Cruise Agency of the Year’.
Across the past year, Eagle Travel has been involved in many local charitable causes and they also sponsor a number of Bedford’s many sports teams. “Sport is at the heart of our unique and close-knit town that we are privileged to be a part of both commercially and as Bedfordians.”
The nomination for épanoui said: “I love browsing in Epanoui, I rarely leave without buying something; a treat for a friend, the perfect gift to put by for the right moment or the perfect pick-me-up for myself.
Hannah and her team who support her are dedicated to customer service and helping customers find just the right thing. Hannah designs and makes the jewellery sold in the shop and her passion for her craft shines through.
The shop is a real treasure and it’s one of my favourite shops in Bedford. Whenever a friend comes to visit the town, I will always take them into epanoui and they are always surprised that a small town like Bedford has a gift shop you would expect to find in London – and without London prices too!”
Gallone’s Ice Cream Parlour (three nominations)
“Gallone’s is the best Ice cream parlour in the town,” said one of Gallone’s nominators. “They offer so many flavours which you can try before buying, all of which can be served on waffles, pancakes or in sundaes.
Martin the owner is a really friendly guy, who always has a smile and a cheerful word. Nothing is too much trouble for him. All of the staff go above and beyond in their customer service.”
Another nomination said: “My family have been regular customers for over a year having stumbled across the store when out shopping in Bedford.
“I was with my elderly mother and father (both in their 80’s) and we were immediately greeted by Martin and made to feel very welcome. Our first visit to his shop has really changed our lives as my mother has dementia.
“We had such a positive experience, excellent customer service and of course delicious drinks and desserts that we visit at least once a week. My mothers advanced dementia means we aim for some familiar outings to get her out the house and Gallones is one such activity we still enjoy as a family.
“She always is happy and looks forward to going there and says “that Martin is such a lovely man”. Martin is patient, kind and friendly and has the ability to make all his customers feel valued.
“He does have a lot of people with learning disabilities come to his store and again his warmth and a good sense of humour are very much evident. We have seen Martin have work experience with students with learning disabilities giving them confidence and empowering them to feel valued.
Martin is an excellent ambassador for promoting the other stores in the Arcade which we have used and in the last year, The Arcade has really improved with the new stores open which is brilliant for the town.”
“For the past four years, Chris and his wife Kate had been the managers of Goldings of Bedford,” said their nominator.
“Sadly, despite all the many efforts at diversifying, the dreaded ‘High Street Death’ finally forced them to face the inevitable closure.
“Much to the sadness of most of Bedford folk and those who saw how that hard work was fated, in particular. Not to be put down, Chris and the keycutting side of Goldings is now Tolchards, a veritable Phoenix rising in The Arcade.
“He was able to negotiate an acceptable lease and is also selling the most popular cleaning material from Goldings’ massive range. I sincerely believe Chris embodies the spirit of Bedford’s independent retailers and deserves to win this category.”
Jacky Guy Hair Salon
“Visiting Jacky and her team at Jacky Guy Hair Salon in Castle Lane is always a warm and welcoming experience,” said their nomination.
“Jacky opened Jacky Guy Hair Salon in Bedford in 2016. The salon was based in the Arcade but in 2019 moved to the Castle Quays area of Bedford.
“Jacky’s clients range in age from toddlers to senior citizen and cover a rather of ethnicities. Her clients are not only from Bedford and surrounding towns, some of her clients travel from London and further afield so that she can tend to their tresses.
“She wants all her clients to make the most of their hair and feel great about themselves; often telling them to ‘enjoy their hair’ as they leave the salon.” Jacky works with Bedford College to give students the opportunity to work in her salon and she brings members of the local community and others together, in a relaxed, friendly environment.
“Jacky really cares about her clients remembering key dates and events in their lives and always reaching out if she hasn’t seen you in a while, just to check that you are ok. “I am grateful that she has given her salon a home in Bedford.”
“I’ve been using Om Pharmacy regularly for over a year now due to terminal illness and ‘Mr Om’ as I affectionately call him, has been a delight to deal with in what have been for me, extremely difficult circumstances,” said this nomination.
“He is always polite and makes eye contact, as do his co-workers. I’ve observed him keep very calm when faced with a particularly agitated customer and soon brought the situation under control with his kind, unhurried and respectful manner.
“Mr Om has gone out of his way to assist me when I’ve almost run out of essential medication. I’ve been informed that he walked to the Doctor’s surgery himself to resolve an issue about my medication, and I always get a call to say that my medication is ready for collection.
“I cannot ask for more from this very competent, friendly and compassionate man. It is unusual for a shopkeeper to ask you how you are, or how you’ve been keeping – this is natural to Mr Om and I (and other customers I’m confident in guessing) really appreciate his concern.”
Ready Steady Roll
Ready Steady Roll is a Board Game Café, tucked away in the Bedfordshire countryside on the outskirts of Sharnbrook.
Putting themselves forward for the award, Ready Steady Roll said: “We have over 350 board and card games for families, friends and couples to play.
“We have a ‘Games Guru’ on hand to recommend the perfect game and teach you how to play so you don’t need to read the rules! While you play you can enjoy homemade cake, a light lunch and locally roasted coffee.
“We also have a shop selling board games, so if you find a game you love, you can buy it with 10% off too! We aim to make every visitor’s experience special.
“With so many games, we always have a chat with customers to see what their interests are to help us pick the perfect game for their group, followed up with an explanation of how to play and further recommendations when they are finished.
“While they play we offer table service so there is no need to stop playing to get some coffee or cake. We love how highly interactive we have to be at the café as we really get to know our customers.
“While I obviously think we are a great independent business, our customers are the best people to hear from. I think that looking at our reviews on TripAdvisor demonstrates how we make each visit to us special – we currently have 105 ‘Excellent’ five-star reviews and 5 ‘Very Good’ four-star reviews and not a single review lower!”
Vintage Thai Spa
The award-winning Vintage Thai Spa in Kempston opened in 2016 and is run by sisters, Jay and Joon, who are passionate about massage and alternative therapies and care about health and well-beings.
They say: “Since we take our work seriously and never compromise on quality and standard, we always make sure our massage treatments are practiced authentically using Thai styles and techniques to maximise benefits for clients.
Our name has spread widely through mainly word-of-mouth and recommendations. We are proud that we have brought in heritage of Thailand into Bedfordshire and we get very satisfied response from people in our community.
We hope to continue to work at our best to keep high standard for everyone in Bedfordshire.”