Shoppers and fellow retailers reacted in shock today as one of York’s shopping treasures closed its doors after 137 years.
Burgins Perfumery on the corner of St Helen’s Square and Coney Street has been a fixture in the city since William Gladstone was prime minister.
But the shop has sold its last fragrance as the owner could no longer make the business pay, declaring: “Coney Street isn’t working any more.”
Owner Hanus Wolf took the decision to close Burgins because the shop was no longer financially viable.
He told the five members of staff, aged from 22 to an “85-year-old Saturday girl who had been here for almost 30 years”, that the shop was shutting on Monday morning (July 17).
“A lot of them have been here many years,” he told YorkMix. “They all feel very sad about the whole situation. They realise it’s external factors.”
These factors included the rise of online retailing, the decline of York as a retail centre and the lure of out-of-town shopping, he said.
“Internet shopping has changed people’s habits,” he said. “They’re no longer walking in to shop as an experience. It’s no longer families. It is now – click a button.
“It’s completely changed the way we shop.”
Three years ago there wasn’t a single empty shop in Coney Street. And now you’ve got ten.
No longer York’s busiest street
Phil Pinder, who takes over as chair of York Retail Forum in September, said: “It’s such a shame that we are losing a beautiful shop that has been in York since 1880.
“This is another empty unit on what was once York’s premier shopping street.
“We have already lost BHS, and with Currys set to close in the coming weeks, I only hope this is not the start of a trend for York.”
In recent months Parliament Street has taken over from Coney Street as York’s busiest thoroughfare judged by footfall.
After a good start to 2017, Burgins suffered its worst May and June trading since Hanus took over the shop in 2011.
Takings in June were down £15,000 on the same month four years ago. “Those two months just blew me away.”
His landlords – the Church of St Helen’s and St Martin’s – landed him with a £75,000 repair bill to the building.
And Hanus said they delayed starting the work till this week, meaning his shop “would be obliterated from view” for the busy summer months because of the scaffolding.
So he took the decision to close.
Too many bars
He traces some of the shop’s problems back to when City of York Council decided to close Lendal Bridge to traffic in 2013.
“That was horrible. For seven months it remained shut, and we saw a 20% drop in business.
“Literally ten days after they reopened the bridge, Vangarde shopping park opened up. For the next five months I had a 40% decline in my turnover.”
He thinks Lendal Bridge left “permanent scars. They issued 57,000 fines, 80% of which went to tourists, and there were people who vowed never to come back.”
The Boxing Day 2015 floods also affected trade. But worse, Hanus believes, is the direction the city centre is going in, flooded by “so many bars and restaurants”.
“This council has changed the face of this city, which used to be full of independent little businesses.
“Wherever there’s been a shop closure – take Mulberry Hall, it became a bar. We’ve got a burger bar in Trespass next to Browns.
“It just seems to be eating, drinking which is driving York.”
‘Please respect York’
He said the increase in licensed premises was having another effect on the retail trade.
“I’ve been talking to the people in Browns and Fenwicks, and Saturdays are now the worse trading day of the week. A year ago it was my busiest day.
“It’s because families don’t come to York city centre because they don’t want to see those hordes of stag and hens in York city centre. So they are going outside – Monks Cross, Vangarde, wherever.”
What is Hanus’s message for city leaders?
Please respect York for what it has always been – which is a destination with a variety of different shops.
Eighty per cent of shops in York have always been independent. The way we’re going is we are becoming a city full of chain bars and restaurants.
Released from the stress
Although it was his dream to run his own perfume shop, in some ways the decision to close was a relief, Hanus said.
He did pay himself a very modest salary from the business – but stopped even that from January this year.
To cover the bills he took a second job. That meant he was working for four days a week, running Burgins for two days a week, and visiting his elderly mother in London on the remaining day.
“in some ways, I’m relieved now because at least I’m released from the stress and the pressure of running this and constantly having no money coming in.”
After the closure announcement he has been flooded with messages from wellwishers both online and in person.
He is now going to continue his work as a perfume supplier to retailers across the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but stay in York.
“I’ve never lived in a better place in all my life than York. For the people, for the way of life.”
Burgins Perfumery was established by a Mr Burgin as a chemist and perfumery in 1880.
It was taken over by the Wright family in 1934, and then by June Yeo and her husband Leonard in 1997.
Burgins always stocked a range of fragrances that people could not buy elsewhere.
Hanus was a supplier of fragrances for 25 years and had supplied June and her late husband since 2004.
When June decided she would retire she asked Hanus if he wanted to take over. He bought the business and began trading in October 2011.