York city centre will continue to thrive – but it has got to guard against becoming a ‘museum’ overrun with cafés.
Those are some of the thoughts of a man who was a key figure in York retailing for many years.
Frank Wood ran jeweller RA Braithwaite on Goodramgate with his wife Dianne for many years.
It opened in 1946 but has now closed, and will soon become Fosters Jewellers as that business moves from High Petergate.
Frank said he had seen many changes in retailing over the years. “We had eight shops at one stage. We were in Bishop Auckland, Driffield, Scarborough. We had three shops in York.
“But the high street has changed massively. And of course it’s the internet that’s forced this change.
“We sell all over the world on our website, we sell to Italy, we sell to Australia, America – and then up and down the country.”
Frank told YorkMix that High Streets were facing a lot of challenges, not least from online retailing. But he believed York city centre would continue to thrive.
“York is is a destination city. So York’s future is sort of guaranteed, because people want to come to York, it’s a beautiful city.
“But I fear for other high streets.”
His own bricks-and-mortar shop is closing just as the number of jewellery shops in York proliferates.
Frank said he wasn’t surprised by this trend, as York is “seen as a honeypot. You see it constantly, you see companies coming in thinking they’re going to make a fortune in York.
“They spend tens of thousands of pounds fitting out a shop – and they’re there for a year and then they wander off.”
But he did have concerns about the number of shops that have been turned into cafés in the city centre. “There’s got to be a saturation point somewhere. There’s been quite a few retail premises converted into cafes.
“In fact, we had people looking around our premises, with the idea of turning into a café.
“But we don’t want Museum York, whereby people come just to have a look around, we want it to be a thriving city centre.”
And there had been another big change in York city centre since the pandemic. “One of the big issues at the moment is fast food,” Frank said.
“Covid meant you couldn’t go out and therefore these delivery companies were set up and absolutely boomed.
“But the problem is bikes from the various companies going the wrong way up one way streets and riding through the pedestrian areas which is dangerous and really does need addressing.”
Frank was one of the original directors of the York BID (Business Improvement District). He said the BID “had a huge positive impact on the city, cleaning the streets that needed it, providing the Street Rangers that are extra security for the city, and of course a third of a million pounds for Christmas lights – before we had virtually nothing.”
He said independent shops were key to York. Innovations like the York Ghost Merchants, which attracts daily queues to Shambles, showed that they were the “backbone” of the city.
And he has an innovation of his own.
Braithwaites Jewellers are planning to introduce a free collection and delivery service for watch and clock batteries and jewellery repairs. This will be across York, and probably further afield.
“There aren’t that many clock repairers,” he said. “Now it seems to be a dying trade.”
Frank added: “We’ve been in York an awful long time, and we had a dedicated and loyal customer base. And I’d just like to thank all our customers for their support.”
Fosters Jewellers are moving from High Petergate into the Goodramgate shop and he said he thought they would do “fantastically well” in place of Braithwaite’s.
“We’ve loved being there. And we will miss the customers,” Frank said.
“People come into shop from all over the world, and you have a great chat. We will miss all of that – because websites are great, but they’re very impersonal.”
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