Hundreds of traders gathered at the Alban Arena on Monday night to celebrate the very best of St Albans' businesses at our annual Retailer of the Year awards.
The sold-out glitzy gala awards evening, now in its sixth year, recognised and honoured achievements of the city’s many unsung heroes and hard-working independent retailers.
Drum rolls from 350 audience members filled the venue as the moment everyone was waiting for came when this year’s overall winner, The Retailer of the Year, was announced.
Alternative Barbering Co. in George Street took the prize, prompting much applause and clapping as staff took to the stage to collect their award.
The barbers, set up three years ago, is the brainchild of Sam Campagna who told the Review it was third time lucky.
Mr Campagna said: "We are amazed. It is come as a bit of a surprise.
"We have been nominated every time for three years, so to actually win is a bit surreal."
A year ago, Mr Campagna was joined by Daniel Martino, his joint business partner.
The 30-year-old said: "We just try to be as good and as we can and offer the best we can.
"Our customers have become our friends and that comes naturally with all of our staff."
Established by the St Albans & Harpenden Review, St Albans District Council, St Albans Civic Society and St Albans Chamber of Commerce, this year's competition was our biggest yet, with more than 1,700 nominations received.
Mystery shoppers spent weeks pounding the streets, putting all our 121 nominated traders to the test.
Nominations were for six categories: Specialist Shops; Hair and Beauty, Fashion and Accessories; Market Traders; Cafes and Restaurants and Food and Drink. The Retailer of the Year committee, made up of Councillor Roma Mills, Councillor Melvyn Teare, Chamber member Sandra Oldfield, civic society member Eric Roberts, council officers Maria Cutler and Charles Baker, Councillor Heidi Allen and former Review editor Martin Buhagiar, then decided on the winner of each category.
Music from St Albans-based Latin band Swan Vesta Social Club filled the room, while Marco the Magician provided entertainment throughout the evening.
Mr Buhagiar, the evening’s compere, said: "The Retailer of the Year awards evenings are always fantastic but this year the crowd created a buzz like no other.
"The atmosphere was incredible and it was wonderful to see so many traders enjoying themselves and getting into the spirit of the occasion.
"This competition celebrates the very best of St Albans. All shortlisted and nominated retailers should be very proud of themselves.
"Retailer of the Year works in St Albans because there are so many customers who rate their favourite shops, cafes, restaurants, markets stalls and beauty salons so highly."
The first prize of the evening, Specialist Shops, was presented to Waterstones in St Peters Street by Councillor Roma Mills.
Up next was the Food and Drink category, presented to Hatch, in the Maltings, by Councillor Melvyn Teare.
John's Fabrics was named winner of the Market Traders category. John Evans, market trader in St Peters Street for 35 years joked it was his good looks and charm which won him the award.
Alternative Barbering Co. won the Hair and Beauty category.
This year’s Star Award, which was introduced in 2010 to reward traders that go that little bit further, went to bird seed market trader, Colin Wright. He said: "We are elated. This was the first year we were nominated so it’s great. "
Maria Cutler, economic development officer at the district council presented Carousel The Handbag Boutique with the award for the Fashion and Accessories category.
As the evening got underway traders began chanting their own songs.
This was at its peak when L’Italiana was named the winner of the Cafes and Restaurants prize. Staff from the Italian pizzeria in French Row were presented with the award by the competition’s committee’s newest member, Councillor Heidi Allen.
Restaurant owner, George Nicholas, went as far to say he would present his fiancée with the prize as her present when they get married this year.
Staff from the Portland Arms, which was named Festive Pub of the Year and Cath Kidston, Festive Window of the Year winner, were also presented with their awards.
Newly-elected St Albans mayor Annie Brewster said she was delighted to see such an "eclectic range of retailers come together".
She said: "It was a brilliant evening and I loved that everyone supported each other.
"It makes me extremely proud and it is great to see the camaraderie between all the different retailers.
"As I walked round and met people, the love they have for St Albans and their customers really shone through."
The Review tweeted updates throughout the evening during the gala evening from our Twitter account @Review_Eagle.