‘It’s a perfect storm’: York’s historic shops on the brink as costs bite

“The community has just split up,” said Bryan Furey, former owner of the Gillygate pub in York, who was forced to bring in administrators in July after his energy bill nearly tripled to £2,500 a year. month.

Sitting in the deserted garden of the pub, which until recently hosted theater and quiz nights, a conker championship and cycling customers, along with many regulars, Furey said the huge energy bill was the final straw in a heap of difficulties that had weighed on advertising.

Rising rents, higher staff costs and increased competition for its eight hotel rooms from an explosion of Airbnb properties in the city center have all taken their toll. “It’s a perfect storm that will force a lot of people to shut down,” he said.

Brian Furey, former owner of the Gillygate pub, was forced to close in July
Brian Furey, former owner of the Gillygate pub, was forced to close in July. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

In the heart of York, close to its famous cathedral, Petergate is home to an eclectic mix of high street shopping, including several pubs and restaurants, jewellers, independent clothing retailers, bookshops, a carpet store and beauty salons. Now many are wondering how they will cope with this winter.

Rising energy bills are just the latest blow to rising supplier and delivery charges, rising staff costs and a shortage of key workers, partly caused by Brexit . Meanwhile, trade is expected to fall as customers’ winter energy bills hit the doormat.

Tempt, a vegan chocolate shop, closed its doors last month, while a small jewelry store also just closed.

Emma Mellor’s handmade rug store is struggling with high delivery costs and she fears her customers will limit their spending when their bills rise. In one of the bookstores, there are concerns about passing trade because its energy bill is largely limited to lighting costs.

Mark Snowden of Jax Barbers said he had just received a new energy bill that was 300% higher than the previous one. “I’ve been in business for 40 years and this is by far the toughest it’s ever been,” he said.

He added: “It is a very grim situation. Covid started. I lost all my office workers because they now work from home, and the elderly, who no longer have the courage to go out. I lost 30% to 40% of my business and now we have this [big bill increase].”

Rebecca Hill, general manager of the Galtres Lodge hotel and Forest restaurant in Petergate, has a fixed contract for energy bills until next year but is already worried about the future as bills from her other company near Ripon which does not have a long-term energy deals have become “astronomical since the start of the year” – more than 20 times the rate it pays in York.

Mark Snowden of Jax Barbers
Mark Snowden of Jax Barbers recently received an energy bill that was 300% higher than before. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Hill has suspended plans to convert the Ripon site from an events venue to a year-round hotel and plans to close between January and March, when bills are highest and revenues are likely to decline .

In York, it plans to close on Mondays to cut costs, partly because of difficulties in recruiting staff and to limit its expenses during quiet periods.

“Consumer confidence and spending is the biggest thing that worries me,” she said.

“The restaurant is always busy at key times – lunch and dinner – but it’s in between. People don’t go out for afternoon tea or a drink before dinner. We see beautiful add-ons in decline.

Kerry Elstob, owner of Just Smile Designs, which sells homemade cards, printed mugs, children’s clothing and other crafts, has a three-year contract on her energy bill until next year, but is worried about a potential rent increase as her lease is due to renew next month and several businesses nearby have seen their rents double.

“If my rent goes up, I might just go online,” she said.

“I’m worried. It’s more difficult than during the lockdown because we got help then and there was talk of help before it started. Now there’s no talk of help.

‘It’s a perfect storm’: York’s historic shops on the brink as costs bite

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