“CORONAVIRUS will finish us off,” said a small business owner in York who fears for the future - if residents don’t support the city’s high street.

David Binelli is urging people to ‘keep calm and carry on’, for the sake of all the small retailers, cafes and businesses in York.

David, 58, has reduced the working week to just four days at his outlets, Alterations Express in Fossgate and Sew n Sew's in Newgate, which together employ 10 people.

“They are under severe pressure caused by people not coming into the centre for fear of storms and coronavirus,” he said. “There’s half the number of people in York than a month ago. The place is empty. My businesses are not too affected by the lack of tourists. We get our work from local residents. But they are not coming in.

“Local businesses, small businesses like mine, are on their knees.”

He added: “We are down from five days to four days. The work has fallen through the floor. I reckon we are talking about the next three months before anything changes. Staff are against it, but at the same time understand the only way to survive this is to reduce the hours.”

David is particularly worried about what would happen in the event of a lockdown like in Italy.

“If you close anything down for a month or two, shops will close and they won’t come back,” he warned. “I want to persuade people to use local businesses. Use us or lose us. If you don’t we will disappear. You don’t want to see places like Blake Street with boarded up shops.”

He said small businesses had already been struggling because of business rates and rents, but added: “The coronavirus is the one that will finish us off.

“If they go down the route of lockdown that will finish us off - 80 or 90 per cent are borderline. If you close them for a week or two they are gone. My staff are very concerned. They are worried the business will close. If one person gets it and has to self-isolate the business would have to close.”

He said their use of often large and heavy equipment made it unfeasible to work from home.

Sew n Sew's, believed to be the oldest clothing alterations company in York, is at 15 Newgate, overlooking Shambles. Alterations Express has been in existence for about 20 years. David bought it when the previous owners retired.

David welcomed support measures in the Chancellor’s budget, particularly the decision to scrap business rates for small operators with a rateable value of under £51,000.

“It will make a huge difference,” said David. “My rateable value on Fossgate is £13,250 so I am under that limit. But what are the details? When does it start? There’s a downturn in business now.”

He said they were trying to diversify by making more attractive cotton face masks to sell.

“They are not designed to stop the virus but are basic dust masks, the kind to stop people spluttering all over the place. We have small, medium and large, and for children. We even have one for a dog.

The masks are on display in the window of Alterations Express, and on sale at Sew n Sews for £4 to £5.