PUBLISHED: 12:09 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013
Michelle Sackett - owner of Little Black Dress
Katie jarvis tells us to go shopping in stow. Pictures by Jules Beresford
Julie fisher of The Harwick Cashmere Company
PEOPLE travel miles to shop in Stow-on-the-Wold - of course they do. But while some arrive in coach-loads, looking for cream teas and souvenir tea towels, another contingent arrives in their Lamborghinis, down from London to stay in their weekend cottage (or even castle).
The reason they're here? It's for the specialist shops in Stow; shops run by experts who know their market back to front, and who can offer the sort of goods that might otherwise be hard to track down. Roger Clark has been in business for more than 40 years, the last 12 of them in this hill-top market town. His antique shop, La Chaise, specialises in period chairs, upholstery and soft furnishings.
"I love being in Stow," he says. "On Sunday, I was at a local client's open garden afternoon; another day, I might be delivering to Regent's Park. These are people with money to spend, who know what they're looking for."
And what they're looking for is to pick his brains. He can tell them, for example, that they could buy a modern 'Howard and Sons' chair to grace their homes; or they could spend a similar amount of money on a (in his opinion) better quality version made by the same company a century ago, complete with turned walnut legs and maker's stamp.
It's that kind of personal service and knowledgeable advice that makes Stow far more than a one-trick pony. Visitors would soon stop calling if there were no personality behind its famed looks. It has an excellent range of quality shops, hotels and restaurants.
In fact, it was that solid reputation that attracted Mark Vance - chair of Stow-on-the-Wold Business Association - who came here from Richmond. In 2003, he and his wife, Janine, bought the Grapevine Hotel in Sheep Street followed by the Royalist in 2006.
"This is a fantastic location for an hotel," he says. "Stow has a reputation for quality that brings people to the town. Visitors are much more aware of quality nowadays, especially when it comes to food, because of what's going on on the TV. It's been driven by the market."
Inevitably, there are concerns among traders about the coming 12 months - rents in the town are higher than average; and business has been quiet recently - but this is a place where many have been around to witness recessions before; and, above all, they pull together. Scotts of Stow which, in its own right, attracts tens of thousands of customers each year, is particularly supportive of fellow traders. It even issues a 'Cotswold Passport' to clients on its database, designed to encourage them to spend more time and money in the town, with special offers on goods and services.
And whatever the market, many of the goods in Stow simply can't be found elsewhere. "These are not your general traders, and the people who visit the town appreciate that," Roger Clark says. "As far as antiques are concerned, you've got Huntingdon who specialise in oak; Jack Baggott who is a high-quality mahogany, walnut, rosewood 'brown furniture' antique dealer; you've got people like myself on the furnishing side, and Tony Preston in the higher quality investment furniture.
"I've just sold a sofa to a couple who came all the way from Bridgenorth because they'd heard about the upholstered furniture I sell.
"We get very smart people shopping in the town; some of them leave Madonna standing! They could shop anywhere, but they choose to come to Stow."