Awards organisers have defended the inclusion of national pub and restaurant chains after Nando's and Wetherspoons took top prizes in a search for Preston's best venues and people.
The winners of the Preston Business Improvement District (BID) ‘Smiles Better’ Awards were handed out at a ceremony at Evoque this week.
The competition, sponsored by The North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, saw more than 200 nominations from businesses and individuals across the city centre, which were whittled down to 80 finalists.
More than 68,000 votes were cast in total for the 17 accolades.
The winners were chosen by a public vote.
But an online row has broken out over whether national chains should have been included.
Social media was awash with complaints that locally-run outlets had been overlooked.
But a spokesperson for Preston BID said today: "The Smiles Better awards are always open to any business operating in the Preston city centre.
"Both independent businesses and national chains are encouraged to enter.
"The awards also feature a number of categories that honour employees who go that extra mile to provide first-class service.
"Almost 68000 votes were cast by the general public and they alone determine their favourite clubs, bars, stores, pubs and restaurants.
"With 17 awards up for grabs, almost 50 per cent were presented to the independent sector.
"It only goes to show that the independent sector can hold their own against the national brands.
"Preston city centre is home to many outstanding businesses who are to be commended for their hard work and commitment to the city and its economy."
The BID Special Recognition honour was awarded to Peter Alexander of Blitz by Dawn Cheetham, President of the NWL Chamber of Commerce.
Peter has been a recognisable figure in Preston’s leisure economy for decades, beginning his career at the Warehouse before owner-operating Blitz.
Peter is strong advocate for the city centre and its music scene representing the sector on several national panels.
Townhouse Coffee & Brew Bar’s Bernice Newton, noted for her ‘Big Friargate CleanUp’ project, was announced as the ‘City Star’.
The awards were presented by BBC Radio Lancashire’s John Gillmore and radio favourite Danny Bee.
Popular TV news presenter, Paul Crone, who began his journalistic career at the Lancashire Post in 1981, made a surprise guest-appearance to hand out awards to the recipients of ‘Outstanding Achievement in Leisure’ and ‘Outstanding Achievement in Retail’, and to meet all winners and finalists.
Babs Murphy, Chief Executive of the NWL Chamber, said: ‘We were delighted to sponsor the ‘Smiles Better’ Awards for 2019, the competition showed how passionate city centre businesses are and how they continue to evolve, adapt and offer great service.
“There was an air of excitement in the room and the winners, and finalists, are to be applauded’.
A full list of the winners is below:
RETAIL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Winner: DAVID BULLOCK – PRESTON MARKET
INDEPENDENT BUSINESS OF THE YEAR
WINNER: TOWN HOUSE COFFEE AND BREW BAR
BAR OF THE YEAR
MULTIPLE RETAILER OF THE YEAR
WINNER: MARK O’ROURKE GROUP
BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE IN A LEISURE BUSINESS
WINNER: LEE JOHNSON – SWITCH
LEISURE MANAGER OF THE YEAR
WINNER: DAVE BROWN – SWITCH
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR
WINNER: DJ BEN
PUB OF THE YEAR
WINNER: TWELVE TELLERS
NIGHTCLUB OF THE YEAR
WINNER: THE WAREHOUSE
BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE IN A RETAIL BUSINESS
WINNER: SUE DODWELL – GREGGS
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN RETAIL
WINNER: GORDON GIBSON – ACTION RECORDS
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVMENT IN IN LEISURE
WINNER: LISA BILLINGTON – THE WAREHOUSE
WINNER: BERNICE NEWTON – TOWNHOUSE COFFEE & BREW BAR
SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD :
PRESENTED TO PETER ALEXANDER