SHOPPERS bemoaning a lack of independent stores in Huddersfield have been urged to back businesses in one of the town’s Victorian buildings.

Tenants at Byram Arcade, in Westgate, who have banded together to promote their shops, believe they hold the key to revitalising town centre trade.

They spoke out after an Examiner online survey this week showed that 70% of respondents thought Huddersfield had a poor choice of shops and 67% wanted to see more independent stores.

A separate survey also showed that one in seven town centre shops were empty.

Hardy Punglia, 35, who opened clothing store The Left Bank on Byram Arcade’ second floor three years ago and has seen his business double in size since then, said: “I was surprised by the survey findings.

“We have 23 independent businesses in the arcade – probably as many as the rest of the town centre put together.

“The units are virtually full and they are all offering something different to the multiples.

“There is a thriving community of businesses, which are being run by young people with innovative ideas.”

Mr Punglia said the arcade businesses deserved strong support from the local community.

“The focus of the town centre has shifted towards Kingsgate,” he said. “But we are only five minutes’ walk away. I think Kirklees Council realise that this building is a jewel in the crown and we are getting involved in events such as the Food and Drink Festival and the Festival of Light.

“But when all the talk is about the demise of the high street, we’re saying that there is an alternative.”

Mr Punglia worked as a personal shopper at upmarket Harvey Nichols in Leeds before deciding to use his retail experience by opening his own store. The fashion designer saw boy band JLS wear his clothes on national TV last month.

“In the past three years, I have noticed Byram Arcade grow in popularity,” he added. “It is quite an incubator for young talent – retailers who craft their own items and provide something different.”

Becky Prusinski, 25, who opened Thunderbug last November to sell hand-made jewellery and artwork, said: “You get some lovely comments from people because it is such a lovely building.

“They say you would have to go to Leeds or Manchester to find something like this.”

Becky, who graduated in textiles from Huddersfield University before setting up her business, said the arcade shops particularly attracted Huddersfield’s student population, but were also appealing to people of all ages.

Unlike the high street chains, most of the arcade shops were introducing new products on almost a weekly basis and were able to offer personal service.

Tom Simpson, 27, and business partner Imran Jogee, 26, took over arcade cafe The Blue Rooms just a month ago.

Tom, who also runs the nearby Parish Pump pub, said: “I first came to the cafe when I was at university. It was always really busy.

“We have changed the decor to provide a relaxing environment and put our stamp on it.”

Tom said the arcade needed “a lick of paint” to make it more welcoming, but added: “There are so many business in here now.

“It is time for independent shops to come to the fore. For people who are fed up of generic brands, there is an alternative environment.”