Business is blooming in Swanage town centre

Bucking the national trend of empty shop units, Swanage in Dorset is seeing lots more new businesses opening up in the heart of the seaside town, including a florist.

There’s also a sweet shop, at least three new restaurants and several other retail units about to open or already launched, providing evidence of a post pandemic revitalisation of the High Street and Station Road.

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The Purbeck Plaza - new tapas restaurant in the high street

Left empty for years, this former pub on the High Street in Swanage is about to open as a tapas bar called The Purbeck Plaza

Sweet shop in Station Road

A new shop just selling sweets on Station Road – what’s not to like?!

Majority of empty retail units have been let

While there’s some notable exceptions like the former Lloyds Bank branch in the High Street which remains unoccupied, the majority of empty retail units in the town centre have been let to new businesses.

The Corner restaurant and the gift shop Old Harry is a Rock on Station Road, both opened in November 2023 and a smoke house eatery Smoke on the Water on the lower High Street is due to open at the end of April 2024.

In past years, the Swanage Royal British Legion has been able to use an empty unit for a pop up poppy shop in town and likewise Swanage and Purbeck Rotary regularly has a pop up Christmas shop over the festive period, but in 2023 they have both been unable to find any empty shops.

Fortunately Harlees Fish and Chips has been generous enough to host the temporary shops at one end of its premises in Station Road.

Empty Lloyds Bank in the High Street

Sadly the former Lloyds Bank bank in the High Street remains empty

Shop unit on the high street

A complete renovation is underway at this shop in the High Street – who knows what it is going to be?

Reassessing lifestyle choices post pandemic

With a preponderance of independent shops in Swanage rather than a reliance on retail chains, it appears that others are keen to set up shop in the town, some after reassessing their lifestyle choices following the Covid pandemic.

One example is a shop dating back to Victorian times, which is about to get a new lease of life, thanks to floral designer Selina Kerley.

The premises at 62 High Street which was once Millward’s, a drapery and grocery store, and has since served customers as an antique shop, a shoe shop, a tool hire centre and most recently a picture framers, is to open as a florist shop in early 2024 – something that has been missing from the town for many years.

London trained floral designer Selena Kerley is back home in Swanage and getting ready to open a florist's in High Street

Floral designer Selina Kerley at the shop which will be a florist, hopefully in time for Mother’s Day 2024

Next door to the Swanage Town Hall, 62 High Street was once Millward’s grocery store, pictured here in 1906

First florist shop in Swanage for years

Selina trained as a luxury florist with McQueens in London, who provide flowers for the Oscars’ after show party and the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s Wimbledon champion’s ball among other events, but returned to her hometown during the pandemic.

She has been working freelance from Swanage, focussing on weddings and special events since then, and was looking for a large workspace in the town – and when one the right size came up, it just happened to have a shop attached to it.

Selina said:

“I’ve always loved this shop, I got married next door in the town hall and the High Street is a really lovely road with a lot of heritage and so much happening – it feels really exciting and very significant that I’ve moved in here.

“Everyone loves flowers, everyone needs them for special occasions and from the comments I have got since announcing my news on Facebook, I am certain that Swanage people will appreciate having a bricks and mortar florist in the town centre, which is really heartening.

“I will be selling fresh flowers and a few plants and gifts from the shop, but downstairs I will have a huge workshop for the weddings and events which I will continue to do. Ultimately, I would love to be able to host floristry classes there.

“The workshop takes up the whole lower ground floor; the framers who were in here last needed a similar height of worktop to me, so it’s also perfect for a floristry.”

A newspaper advertisement for Millward’s which Selina found in the shop

Working on a display for one of her events

In London when the pandemic started

Selina took up a career in marketing and moved to London after graduating from Arts University Bournemouth, but after a few years felt the need to be more creative.

She studied at an environmental college in London, graduating with a Diploma of Higher Education in floristry in 2018 before joining elite floral firm McQueens Flowers, managing their boutique store in Claridges.

Thanks to her marketing background, she was moved to a desk job when the pandemic broke out, badly affecting the international business, leading to many other staff being furloughed.

One of her hopes for the future is to run floristry classes in her workshop

Selina says she will continue to cater for weddings and celebrations as well as run her new shop

“We loved being back so much that we stayed”

Selina said:

“It seemed silly that my husband and I were sitting in our flat in London working from home at the height of the pandemic, so we moved back down to Swanage. It was only meant to be temporary, but we loved being back so much that we stayed.

“I have since been freelancing with some amazing florists in Dorset and beyond, but the reason I was looking for a workshop was so that I could focus on doing my own work, and then this place came up, which is absolutely ideal.

“We saw it in November 2022, just before we got married, and took it over in October 2023, just before our honeymoon, so it’s all been very quick but feels very significant.”

There’s plenty of work to do in the front of shop before opening day!

“Community vibe”

Selina added:

“I come from a family of retailers so it felt like everything was coming together, and I love the fact that there is so much of a community vibe around here.

“There is a lot of work to do in the shop, from plastering and plumbing to damp proofing the floor, but I am trying to do it myself. I hope to open in time for Valentine’s Day next year, but that might be a bit optimistic, so perhaps Mother’s Day is more realistic.

“I had been a bit nervous about announcing my new shop, but the reaction has been overwhelming and now I can’t wait to open!”

Further information

  • Stay up to date with the very latest announcements on Selina’s Instagram page

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