ONE of York’s much-loved independent retailers, a haven for a generation of beer enthusiasts, is to close its doors after 32 years of trading.
York Beer and Wine Shop in Sandringham Street, off Fishergate, opened in 1985 but will close once the current stock runs out, owner Jim Helsby has told The Press.
Mr Helsby is retiring after spending half his life at the shop, but also said that trading in and around Fishergate had become too difficult.
He said when his shop opened, it was one of very few dedicated beer specialist shops, but competition has soared in recent years, particularly from supermarkets.
He said: “There were a lot more shops around here when we first opened - a post office, a butcher’s, a baker’s a chemist and a florist. It was all shops, but not now.
“I’m sorry to be going but I have got to sell the stuff now. We will be here for a couple of months I guess but I will not be doing any more buying - just selling.”
Mr Helsby moved to York in 1972 as a student, and worked as a haematologist for ten years at the County Hospital then York District Hospital, before launching his business.
He became a beer enthusiast through the Campaign for Real Ale, and teamed up with a colleague, Eric Boyd, to launch the shop, often arranging beer swaps with his brother Rick, who was involved in a similar shop in Oxford, and travelling around the country to source new stock.
Mr Helsby said: “At that time there were only about a dozen beer specialists nationally so we were slightly in the vanguard of it all, and it went very well. It was never a huge money spinner but it survived commercially, and in the campaigning sense, as we wanted to level the playing field between wine and beer.”
He said they initially sold some exotic beers, including from China, Japan and Papua New Guinea, but generally bought beers he liked that he hoped others would too, including strong promotion of Belgian beers that were largely new to British drinkers at the time.
From 2003 to 2013, Mr Helsby also wrote The Press’s “beer of the week” column on Saturdays, introducing readers to 500 beers.
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“Neither I nor Eric had any experience of running a business at all - we just bought stuff and sold it for slightly more and hoped for the best, and that was our way of making it work.”
Sourcing bottled beers from small British breweries was harder then, he said, as most were content to focus on a very local market, but in its early years, the shop also had six handpulls on the bar, enabling drinkers to take home real ales that were scarcely available in York.
In recent years, the huge rise in brewery numbers in Britain has changed the industry hugely, and Mr Helsby said he had enjoyed dealing with many, such as Chris Waplington at Bad Seed, Dave Shaw at Hop Studio, and Phil Saltonstall at Brass Castle.
As for his favourite beers? Mr Helsby said: “Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Timothy Taylor’s are not regarded as a craft brewery but they are. If craft means you have to be small and funky with wacky packaging, they do not fit the bill, But in terms of quality, it’s absolutely five star and always has been.”
He is still formulating his plans for retirement, but said it would include a long-overdue trip to Bruges, to visit the breweries whose beers he has sold over the years.