RETAILERS have issued a rallying call for new and expanding businesses to put their faith in York ahead of its reopening post-Covid.

A rising number of vacant shops reflect the crippling impact of restrictions on York’s high street, with 57 by the end of the third quarter of 2020-2021, up from 42 the year before.

This is lower than the national average, however, and York businesses which have weathered the pandemic remain confident in a comeback.

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In a bid to help the city thrive again, York Retail Forum is launching free mentoring for new businesses, in addition to existing support on offer.

The forum whose members include small and large retailers is also compiling details about available properties, landlords and agents, so people looking for premises can find all the information in one place.

“There are lots of brands looking to expand right now, various cafe brands and other medium and local chains looking for extra shops,” said Phil Pinder, head of the Retail Forum.

“It’s not all doom and gloom on the high street. Now is the time we need to sell ourselves and say ‘come and grab a bargain and open on what’s going to be a very buoyant high street moving forward post-pandemic’.”

Andrew Lowson, of the York BID, said the loss of national retailers in York, like Topshop, was a concern, especially as large units are more difficult to fill.

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But he added: “York has always proved itself to be a resilient and innovative community with a strong core of local and independent business people.

“It is heartening to see a local investor, Helmsley Group, buying properties in the city and making them available for pop-up initiatives such as the Skippko art project on Coney Street.

"A local investor is also more likely to change large units into mixed-use sites.

“Smaller units don’t usually stay vacant for long, and we have seen several new businesses start up in the last 12 months, while other independents are seeking to expand.

"Ongoing initiatives to introduce more green spaces and make the city more family-friendly will also benefit the high street in the long run.”

Phil said the forum was keen to proactively promote York as a place to open a business.

Confident that business rates relief will be extended until April 2022, he said: “Now is the time to expand a business. You are never going to have it any worse than this year so you may as well do it now.

“Landlords are very open to doing deals at the moment, even if that’s just for a temporary lease. There’s no better time to test your ideas.”

He said the mentoring scheme was in the early stages but would offer a package of support, with experienced retailers already on board. They are now looking for more mentors from big and small shops to share their experience and advice, as well as mentees.

Phil said now was a good time to take the plunge despite the ongoing restrictions. “Whenever you take on a shop you are looking at a three to six-month process in terms of negotiating so there’s no better time than now.”

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