ONE of York’s most popular independent retailers has called for free car parking and public toilets to be open to help the city’s revival.

Paul Thompson, who closed Barnitts for the the first time in its 124-year history, has warned of a slow recovery until customer confidence returns.

The department store’s managing director said the announcement that retailers could reopen on June 15 was “a positive move”.

But, he said it would be ‘hard work’ until all the businesses reopened, and manufacturers and supply chains were back up to speed.

“We need other shops around us and everyone to fire back up to make it work, to give more of a reason for people to come back into the city centre - coffee shops doing take-away and food take-aways. We all need each other. We are all only little cogs in a big wheel.

“We all want it back to normal. We all have to do our bit to prevent the virus spreading but the economy has to open at some point. It is going to be a very slow start.”

He called on City of York Council to ensure public toilets were available, and to offer two hours of free car parking as an incentive until Christmas to encourage people back.

The Colliergate store, established by George Barnitt in 1896, was permitted to stay open under the coronavirus legislation but decided to shut soon after the lockdown.

“For the first two weeks, we sold lots of compost,” said Paul. “But we are not going to survive selling compost.”

He added: “We were in the dark about when to open. We will aim for June 15, or maybe the weekend before. Staff members who are coming back will have to get used to a new way of working.”

Safety measures in Barnitts will include a queueing system, signage and fewer counters.

“We can allow about 40 customers in at a time,” said Paul. “I will gauge how that feels in the shop to keep everyone safe. Sometimes we may have to ask people to wait. We will let the business build back up.”

He said he would bring furloughed staff back gradually.

“The first few weeks will be slow. We need the confidence to bring staff back in. With every member of staff we have to be turning over more money.

“It might take three months to get back up to speed. I think we will be lucky to get back up to 80 per cent [of trade] within three months; it will take confidence and for people to understand, and we need offices back, with people working in the city. They are our customers as well. And we need tourists back. They are a big part of the city centre.”

He added: “As soon as we un-furlough staff that’s a cost. It costs me £1,000 a day just to open the doors. It will cost me wages each day and other costs, once the electricity is switched on and the meter is ticking.”

When contacted about parking and toilets, City of York Council said further details on how it is supporting businesses will be announced next month. The council is looking at the way a range of services will need to adapt to support the economic recovery in line with the latest public health advice.

Its new Economic Recovery - Transport and Place Strategy will aim to build back confidence in York as a safe place, with a focus on cycling and ‘providing a short-term approach to car travel, including incentivised short stay parking’ in some car parks.