Discover the best towns in the UK for independent shopping with SWR

The UK cities with the most independent retailers

13 April 2022

There's nothing quite as charming as a visit to an independent boutique or shop.

Independent retailers not only offer a bespoke service, but also have the added charm of a friendly face and expert advice. It seems we're not alone in love for our local, as Google searches in the UK for ‘shop local’ have increased 340% from 2018 to 2021.

As we all know, 2020-21 has been a tough time for independent retailers due to the pandemic. However, despite these difficulties The Guardian revealed that the number of independent retailers is still growing! This not only showcases the resilience of our local retailers, but also the determination of communities from all over the UK to keep independent businesses alive.

This wave of support for local businesses is inspiring and got us thinking. Where in the UK can you find the most independent retailers? From local bike shops to bookstores, we analysed data from Indie Retail to compare the number of independent stores per 100,000 people across the UK, and in order to discover which towns have the most local businesses. So, when you’re planning your next trip, why not make it your mission to support these independent retailers? No matter where your travels take you on our network, there are plenty of local shops to explore and support on your visit.

Keen to support this network of independent retailers? Kickstart your support for local communities by seeing which UK cities boast the greatest number of independent stores below.

Map of the towns with the highest rate of independent shops

Cambridge

Coming in first place is Cambridge, with the city offering 35 independent shops per 100,000 people. While there are many opportunities to support local, the top sector with the highest number of independent shops in Cambridge is bicycles.

With the pandemic pushing us all out into the outdoors, it’s no surprise that there was a 600% increase in searches for the query ‘local bike shops near me’ in the area from 2018 vs. 2021.

Now that the summer season is almost upon us again, it’s the perfect time to stop by these local cycle stores again to explore the best cycle routes in the south west.

Brighton & Hove

Next up is Brighton & Hove, with 24 independent retailers per 100,000 people. This seaside town boasts a myriad of local businesses, with bike shops also coming out as the top sector in the area.

Book shops are another sector which stands out, with searches for ‘local bookshops’ increasing by 233% in the area from 2018 vs. 2021. So, if you’re searching for a perfect beach read on your seaside retreat, there are plenty of independent book shops to choose from.

York

Further north, York has 22 independent shops per 100,000 people. Whether you want to grab your groceries, or fancy trying out some local delicacies, take the opportunity to try out York’s independent offerings.

What’s travelling without trying out local delicacies? Foodies will be glad to hear that food & drink comes in as one of the top sectors in the area. If you were looking for a sign to a try a traditional Yorkshire pudding from the locals themselves, then look no further. With so many local cafes and restaurants to choose from, your tastebuds are in for a treat on your trip up North.

Norwich

In fourth place is Norwich, with 18 independent stores per 100,000 people.

With searches for ‘independent bookstores’ increasing by 500% in the area, and interest in ‘local bike shops' increasing by 200% in recent years – it is perhaps lucky that these are the strongest independent sectors to match this renewed demand.

Exeter

Back in the south west, Exeter boasts 17 independent stores per 100,000 people.

While cycle shops stand out as the strongest sector in the area, search interest shows that there is great opportunity for other local retailers to set up.

Although there are fewer local fashion shops in the area, search interest for ‘independent fashion brands’ have seen an increase of 500% in Exeter in recent years. Searches for ‘independent clothes shop’ also saw an increase of 100% from 2018 vs. 2021, so it might be a sign for any fashionable entrepreneurs to set up shop soon!

Want to explore what independent stores are on offer in the area? Simply hop on a train to Exeter St David's or Exeter Central to explore the local offering for yourself.

Most popular types of independent shop chart

Independent retailers come in all different shapes and sizes and span a wide variety of sectors. No matter what you’re in the market for, or where on the map your travels take you, there is always an opportunity to support local.

Throughout the UK, local cycle shops make their mark, with 1,675 independent options available. This correlates with the renewed interest in cycling throughout the various lockdown periods, with searches for ‘local bike shops near me’ seeing a dramatic increase of 783% across the UK from 2018 to 2021.

As another creative outlet, many of us rediscovered our love of literature in the last few years. Luckily, there are over 800 independent book shops to explore, so it’s up to you to root around and discover your next favourite read on their shelves! Or if you’re feeling extra expressive, get ready to channel your artistic abilities with 91 local creative stores across the UK to choose from.

Independent retailer hotspots in the south west

Top ten list of towns with independent shops

Planning a summer adventure in the south west? With a wide variety of independent retailers to choose from, make sure to support local communities if you’re passing through while on our network!

Exeter and Bristol top the list, with 17 independent stores per 100,000 people in each of these cities. While bicycle and music shops feature in the top sectors for both, Exeter is also known for its bustling nightlife with a variety of local pubs. To guarantee a good night, raise a glass to the local community in one of the many independent pubs or breweries on offer.

Since seaside cycles seem to be a growing trend (search interest for ‘local bike shops near me’ saw an increase of 783% from 2018 to 2021), it is the perfect time to head to the coast. Hop on a train to Bournemouth or Southampton Central to tick the perfect coastal cycle off your summer bucket list!

Although London is hailed as a shopping hub, when you compare the number of independent retailers per 100,000 people it doesn’t contain as many independent businesses as you might think. However, local businesses in London certainly have a reason to rejoice, with a 237% increase in searches for ‘shop local’ in the last few years alone. Even though it may not come out on top of the list, there are plenty of opportunities in central London to try your hand at vintage shopping, with loads of gems to be discovered in Soho or Shoreditch. Or if you want to venture outside the city, why not do your weekly shop at the Sunday markets? Stock up on fresh supplies in localities like Surbiton to support independent initiatives (and to secure the best produce!)

Traders at Borough Market

Supporting local businesses is an initiative which shows no signs of slowing down. Pay a visit to London with trains to London Waterloo, Clapham Junction or Vauxhall and discover these independent gems for yourself.

So, whether you plan on taking the train to Poole or Portsmouth, support local retailers while you’re there. Not only will you reap the benefits of personal, friendly service, but you will also be making a big difference to local livelihoods.

If this sounds like your ideal summer, plan your trip in advance and book your train tickets online, with a range of ticket types available to ensure you get the best price and most convenient way to travel. Looking for an even bigger saving? Check which railcards and discounts you may be eligible for.

Methodology

Number of independent retailers’ data was sourced from Indie Retail in January 2022. To accurately rank one city/town above the next, our research looked at the cities/towns with a population higher than 100,000 people. We then compared the no. of independent retailers per 100,000 people for each location.

The search trends were sourced from Keyword Planner from February 2018 to January 2022.