HAT sales boomed in York during Royal Ascot - but trade in general has been branded "pretty dire" by a leading retailer.

At Fenwick's in Coppergate, store chiefs stocked up on huge supplies of hats in preparation for the week, with race-goers buying headgear right up to the last minute.

But managing director James Fenwick said apart from the hats, the week's trade had been disappointing.

He said: "Every day in the week right up until Ladies' Day we were selling oodles of hats. Apart from hats it has been pretty dire. People got frightened off from York."

But he added: "I do think it's been a fantastic investment for the whole of the city."

Council leader Steve Galloway agreed that the city centre had been quieter because of Royal Ascot, but stressed that larger businesses looked upon it as an "investment for the future".

He said many racegoers were likely to return for a holiday or weekend break.

"Businesses in the city centre should reserve judgement and look at the implications of Ascot over the next few months and years," he said.

"I think they will feel the economic benefits."

Brown's department store also reported shoppers snatching last minute hat purchases - with sales boosting a quiet trade week in other departments.

Other businesses agreed that trade had been unusually quiet during the week, saying race-goers had not come into the city centre to spend their money. Regular shoppers appeared to have stayed out of York after predictions of lengthy traffic queues.

Among the disappointed traders were the city's bars, which reported takings vastly under predictions.

Andrew Wingfield, manager of the Slug And Lettuce, in Back Swinegate, said he stocked up on extra supplies of beer and food expecting huge race-going crowds - but much of it had not been sold, resulting in a 50 per cent drop in takings for much of the week.

Stuart Weston, manager of Ye Olde Starre Inne, in Stonegate, agreed: "We've hardly seen any race-goers in the city at all. We haven't had the tourist trade."

But across the river, the Living Room bar and restaurant reported soaring sales, with the restaurant alone serving nearly twice as many people as normal.

Penny Robson, licensee of the Fox and Hounds pub in Copmanthorpe, said: "Copmanthorpe was like a ghost town. All the roads were closed off."

Updated: 10:31 Monday, June 20, 2005