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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 12th October 2008
Shops that are part of a chain or a multi-national company can be among the least sensitive when it comes to taking account of local streetscapes. David Winpenny of RIPON CIVIC SOCIETY contrasts two local shop fronts – and shows that even the mighty McDonalds empire sometimes has to give way.

Unlike some of the shop fronts that this column has dealt with, the front of WH Smith in Ripon Market Square is not particularly loud or vulgar (though it would look better without the giant posters in the window). But the shop sign has swallowed up any architectural distinction that the frontage once had – you can just see that there are decorative columns at each end, which once held up a carefully-designed fascia. It is very likely that beneath the large, featureless sign, which is nothing more than plywood with blue paint that is now flaking badly, the original features are still there. Will WH Smith have the courage to strip away the three boards and restore what’s there?

Diagonally opposite, on the north side of the Square, is Caffe Nero – almost as ubiquitous as WH Smith in towns across the country. Although it, too, uses a corporate blue, it does so with sensitivity. The colour is carefully restricted to the traditional space for shop names, between the columns (technically ‘pilaster strips’). Otherwise the paintwork is white. The lettering is appropriate, and the blinds are of the right type – the sort that would have been there originally, and for which the original boxes still exist. The blue planters at either side of the recessed entrance are a nice touch. We would only criticise the use of an A-board outside. Oh, and the huge and ugly ‘Pedestrian Zone’ sign, on a pole, which adds to the physical and visual clutter of the Market Square – though that is not Caffe Nero’s doing!

A final thought. McDonalds is not usually a shy soul when it comes to displaying itself. Brash red and yellow, and huge ‘golden arches’, are usually vital. But they can be toned down. McDonalds in Blake Street in York is much subdued – but best is the branch in Bergen, Norway. Here, even the word McDonald’s (complete with apostrophe!) is in a suitably early 19th-century font. The Bergen authorities know what their rules are, and stick to them. Will Harrogate Borough Council please be as robust in dealing with planning applications for corporate shop fronts?

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