With the picturesque River Ouse running through it and the chiming bells of its imposing cathedral ringing out, York is a magnet for domestic and international visitors alike – and jewellery retailers in the city are most definitely feeling the benefit.
The famous City Walls form a walkway on both sides of the river, leading the way into the centre where visitors can enjoy a wide variety of shops, restaurants and entertainment.
Walking through the city centre in the peak of summer large groups of tourists dominate the narrow streets. Every corner I turned, people could be seen taking photos of roads and store fronts, which provide picture-perfect shots for Instagram.
One of the most notable aspects on arrival is the vast amount of jewellers, which can mostly be found in four primary locations all within a stone’s throw away. These main shopping streets are: The Shambles, Lower Petergate, Stonegate, and the main high street.
The main high street hosts well-known multiples and fashion brands. Jewellery retailer wise, Ernest Jones, Fraser Hart, Beaverbrooks, Swarovski and Goldsmiths all have a premises here.
“As York is such a romantic city and the ideal location for a weekend break, we also get a lot of engagement ring shoppers and couples who come in-store looking for the perfect anniversary treat”
Low Petergate is one of York’s most historic streets and it has a prime location right next to York Minster. In this road the only jewellery chain that can be found is a Links of London concept store, while independent jewellers sit among high-end fashion brands and a large Poundland. Other stores include tourist boutiques but not as many as can be found in the famous Shambles.
The Shambles is the oldest shopping street in Europe and it is lined with timber-framed buildings, which house a range of tourist shops and independent jewellers. To name but a few, the Old Shambles Sweet Shop, Ramshambles – the York Wool Shop and York Glass take up residents in the narrow road. Independent jewellery retailers in The Shambles sell a variety of jewellery including established brands, emerging designers and store-made pieces. While the footfall is large here, stores in The Shambles are very small. Among the niche boutiques there is also a Trollbeads concept store.
“The major selling point for having a store in York is that it is a shop window for the whole world almost”
Last but not least Stonegate is one of the most attractive and architecturally diverse streets in York. Jewellers here are more often than not right next to each other, and while the product is varied, nearly all the jewellery retailers in this street stock luxury and high-end items. In addition, the independent jewellers in Stonegate are well known among locals.
Like Brighton, in York it is the independent retailers that run the show. However, the difference in this city is the product offering appears to be more varied and there is a bit more breathing space between jewellers. In most the streets you won’t have a store next door selling similar products, so while the competition is vast, jewellers are not on top of each other.
Why Choose York?
It is clear that York has something special as for many retailers it is the only location they have a store, and for others they’ve been there for an extremely long time.
Berry’s Jewellers has been in York city centre for over 100 years. Although it has changed names and moved location several times, it has built a bank of loyal customers who have responded well to the store continuing to move with the times and trends.
Elsewhere, Beaverbrooks the Jewellers has had a presence in York since 1974. Store manager Kellie Ellis comments: “As a city, York has more attractions per square mile than any other destination in the UK and so it gets plenty of tourists, which we benefit from.”
“As York is such a romantic city and the ideal location for a weekend break, we also get a lot of engagement ring shoppers and couples who come in-store looking for the perfect anniversary treat, which can be anything from a pair of earrings to a prestigious watch. As the city is home to York University, we also sell a lot of graduation gifts which people are choosing to have engraved with a personal message.”
Trollbeads’ store in York is only one of four concept boutiques for the fashion jewellery brand in the UK. The first Trollbeads UK concept store opened in November 2014 in Cambridge. The brand has since opened doors in York, Newcastle and Norwich.
“York has fantastic array of both high end boutiques and the larger more well know stores, making it a great shopping destination in the North East,” says Trollbeads UK retail manager, Danielle Tominey. “It is also such a historic city, attracting tourists from all over the world to see its 13th century Minster and famous City Walls.”
She continues: “The Number one [opportunity] has to be a strong footfall, whether that’s tourists from outside the UK, or a couple on a romantic getaway, and even families on a stay-cation, I am always surprised at the number of people that are shopping in York compared with other towns and cities. We also benefit from a superb location on The Shambles, arguably the best preserved medieval street in the world. Many of the buildings on the street date back to the late 14th century, making it a top tourist attraction in the city.”
British jewellery brand Azendi only opened its York boutique a month before Professional Jeweller visited. Located in Low Petergate, the new store is in a prime location, with York Minster only a minute away.
“The opportunity presented itself for a great store in a really busy location, so we decided to go for it,” comments Azendi chief executive Lynsey Cooke. “The major selling point for having a store in York is that it is a shop window for the whole world almost. We have customers from all over the UK and the world, who are getting introduced to the brand and then they are going home and finding us online, or seeking us out in their local jewellers.”
It is no secret that York attracts a mass amount of tourists. This is something everyone Professional Jeweller spoke to praised.
The most recent tourism figures for York, commissioned by Make It York, revealed that visitor spend in the city reached a record breaking £608 million and tourist footfall hit 6.8 million. The report also stated that the average spend by day visitors has increased from £35.90 to £44.86.
“At the moment we get a lot of tourists, particularly Chinese,” says Berry’s York assistant manager Rachael Thewlis . “There’s a lot of tour groups that come to York because we are a destination for them and they love their watch brands and because it is so cheap for them to buy over here at the minute, it’s been crazy.”
W Hamond York, owned by C W Sellors, is the leading supplier of Whiby Jet jewellery so both international and domestic tourists come to York discover jewels crafted from the fossilised wood.
“Our shop in Whitby is the longest surviving Whitby Jet shop, having been established in 1860 with our doors open to the public ever since,” explains W Hamond assistant manager Jenny Morgan. “We opened in York in 2007 in order to bring our beautiful jewellery to a wider audience. Due to our location on The Shambles, we are lucky enough to welcome tourists from all over the world.”
Morgan also notes the vast amount of Chinese customers recently, commenting that they particularly like the very unique Whitby Jet pieces, as well as the Victorian jewels and amber selection in store.
While York as a city enjoys visitors all year round, the majority of retailers Professional Jeweller spoke to found summer to be the busiest selling period.
“Due to the high level of tourists, we have to focus heavily on building strong and long-lasting relationships with our local customers.”
“Summer is our busiest time because we are right by York Minster and tourists just get off the train and head straight to the Minster, then they find us,” explains Ruby Howe-Shepherd, social media manager of fashion jewellery store Rue B.
Thewlis from Berry’s agrees. She comments: “Summer I would say at the minute is our busiest season, just because of the huge tourist trade that we get. It’s more local trade at Christmas.”
For W Hamond York, stocking such a niche product means the store enjoys a constant flow of customers all year around. Some people come looking specifically for the shop, while others are pleasantly surprised to find a Whitby Jet boutique during their travels through York.
“Our busiest time is kind of a balance between summer and Christmas, with dips in between,” highlights Morgan. “But, it is a lovely city to visit all year round.”
Cavendish Jewellers, which stocks a wide selection of vintage and antique jewellery, holds a large sale every July. The company has been holding the annual sale for about 10 years and it keeps getting bigger and better, attracting customers from all over the country.
“We get a lot of people coming from a lot further afield come for the summer sale,” explains Cavendish Jewellers stock manager Becci Faulkner. “We have an awful lot of people coming from London especially for the sale because the prices are that good. We get a lot of American tourists, Chinese tourists, York is a very tourist city and this street [Stonegate], is at the bottom of the Minster basically, so it’s one of the busiest streets in York.”
Despite this, Faulkner also comments that the store’s biggest consumer base is the returning York customers.
Tominey from Trollbeads tells Professional Jeweller that the start of the year was affected by the floods, something which other stores echoed, but since February business has really picked up.
She says: “We do seem to benefit from increased footfall from May time and throughout the summer months and I must say I’ve been delighted with the store and the team’s overall performance.”
However, Tominey recognises that a business cannot only thrive in the summer if it wants to survive, adding: “Due to the high level of tourists, we have to focus heavily on building strong and long-lasting relationships with our local customers. We aim to hold monthly events that target our fans and collectors whilst still serving the demand of the customer that is here for one day only. Luckily our team are superb at keeping our customers engaged via social media and adding that personal touch when they shop with us in York.”
To keep store footfall consistent retailers in York cannot rely on tourist custom alone. Whether that means holding a popular annual sale like Cavendish Jewellers or building relationships with local consumers online like Trollbeads, the jewellers in this city need to make an extra effort to secure returning customers, alongside much-loved visitors.
At Berry’s York, one thing they do to drum up a local crowd is hold special exhibitions and VIP events with brands and local businesses, while the staff at Azendi make sure they go the extra mile to keep customers happy.
“The customer service that we give, offering things like gift wrapping, can really set us apart,” says Cooke from Azendi. “Also, our selling point from other jewellers is that we have such a variety of product that is very reasonably priced.
For TCJ Designs domestic custom is actually the bread and butter of this unique boutique. In a crowd of jewellers selling brands and pre-made stock, TCJ Designs runs a bespoke business where customers can get anything make from a plain gold band, to an intricate and personal diamond and gemstone design.
“We do feel like we are a niche business,” explains owner and designer Mandy Morris. “Nobody is quite offering what we do here. People love the fact that everything is designed and made here within the premises. We’ve been going a long time so there is a lot of trust in us as well.”
Morris explains that the store’s busiest season is actually Christmas, with summer tending to be one of the quietest times. While some people might buy a piece from the window, or get a design made in a couple of weeks if they are in York long enough, the majority of customers for TCJ Designs are committed to seeing the whole design process through, no matter how long this takes.
Exploring the streets of York and getting to meet staff who work proudly in different jewellers has been a positive experience. York is not just rich in history, but it is also rich in talent and first-class jewellery staff ready to greet everyone who walks through the door.