Shops past and present: clothing

While pondering whether ‘Monks Cross 2′ is going to kill our city centre, I’ve been taking more notice of our ‘retail offer’, and specifically our clothes shops, some of which are pictured here.

Front of Cult store, with Superdry branding. Bikes parked in racks outside.
Even those of us averse to shopping have to buy clothes every now and then, and perhaps this sector will continue to flourish when the gift shops are boarded up. It seems to be expanding and thriving at present.

Coney Street has had most of the larger clothing chains for as long as I can remember. Those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s would head straight for Coney Street to do our clothes shopping. (If we wanted shoes we headed for High Ousegate, which seemed to be where all the shoe retailers had set up shop, conveniently close together.)

In the 21st century, Davygate is looking like the clothes-shopping destination, particularly since this shop arrived, selling super-desirable Superdry. with its confident. full. stop.

Entrance to Browns store
There were a few clothes shops on the edges of the city centre, most memorably Renaissance on Gillygate and Wooden Horse on Goodramgate, both selling ‘ethnic’ clothing, and Priestley’s on Bootham, selling vintage clothing. But if you wanted something to wear you generally headed straight for Coney Street, to Chelsea Girl and Etam and the like. And probably Top Shop (relocated since). My mum and other ladies rather too mature for the delights of Chelsea Girl often went to Browns, particularly if wanting something for a special occasion. Chelsea Girl disappeared, Browns is still here.

Shop front
These days I pass by most of Coney Street’s shops without crossing any thresholds until I arrive near the end of it, when I rummage around in TKMaxx until I find some suitable bargain, so that I don’t need to go anywhere else. Hurrah. But if that fails, Spurriergate’s new development has Zara and H&M, and handily the Coney Street/Spurriergate run has extended into the adjoining High Ousegate, with Urban Outfitters recently taking over the prestigious premises vacated by Habitat, and Fat Face already well-established further along.

Shopfronts - Karen Millen and French Connection
Davygate is more exciting than I recall it being. When I was young I think it had Browns, Liberty, and a gas showroom. Browns has of course been on its corner for years. A few of the more expensive clothes retailers are gathered here. Then there’s the recent arrival of the Superdry store in the former Borders premises. A welcome addition, particularly for male shoppers, judging by the amount of people I’ve seen wearing Superdry t-shirts. Next door, Karen Millen and French Connection. With Debenhams opposite, as it has been for years.

Window display/shopfront
Also a presence for as long as I can remember, Sarah Coggles, on Petergate. Which, like most of the shops pictured, I can’t afford to buy anything from. But I’m glad it’s still there nonetheless.

I’m more likely to be in the street around the corner, on the ‘charity shop run’ along Goodramgate. When I last looked it included Scope, PDSA, Sue Ryder, British Heart Foundation, Mind, and Save the Children.

The presence of charity shops is often seen as a bad sign, as if they’re not ‘proper’ shops, and indicate poverty and hopelessness. Though of course they’re carrying out a useful role, aside from the obvious charity-supporting one, of recycling clothing. Perhaps clothes bought some time earlier in the shops previously mentioned, which we may have realised were a mistake and perhaps never wore. I think we’ve all done that, haven’t we.

Empty shop, with Vivienne Westwood branding
Talking of mistakes – this would seem to be one? On Blake Street, another clothes shop – a big name prestigious one – though it didn’t last long in York city centre. I’m no retail expert, but it seems like a strange choice of location, doesn’t it? A bit out on a limb and off the beaten track for clothes shoppers. I guess the assumption was that the pull of the name Vivienne Westwood would be enough to get people down here, making a special visit.

Window display detail at Cult store, Davygate
In terms of clothes shops, the death of city centre retailing seems a long way off.

I am of course seeing this from my own personal perspective – as a forty-something female. Please feel free to share your own thoughts on our city centre clothes stores – present or past – particularly if you’re a man. Men seem to have enthusiastically embraced online shopping, which is, as many have said, probably a bigger threat to the city centre than anything else. Personally I’ve not had much success with buying clothing online, and end up returning it. I still prefer to head off ‘up town’ – as long as it’s not a Saturday afternoon. Coney Street packed with shoppers on Saturday afternoon isn’t as appealing as it was when I was fourteen.

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  1. audrey richardson

    Grisedales in coney Street, the 50shilling tailors in York centre, Rowntrees next to the Mansion House,
    Woolworth, Marks and Spencer, British Homestores, Boots chemists, the little jeweller on the left of the Woolworth Store. Leak and thorpe were popular too, we used to walk around on Saturdays. ‘’
    There was the Rowntrees furniture store near the general Post Offce I think, Mr. Speed the photographer too. An exclusive Ladies and Gentlemens clubs on the Lendal end corner. ‘
    I think the judges lodging was in fact just that in those days, it was in later years a restaurant I think.
    There was a long alleyway on the left side of the GPO which had a pub or wine merchants not sure which. Watkinsons shoe shop with its Startrite shoes for children. Terrys restaurant too which vied with Bettys in popularity. Bettys window was the place to be seen!!! Upstairs was popular too.
    On Micklegate Hill, there was a Penningtons fruit and veg store, I remember they had quite a lot of children whom I went to school with one or two.

  2. Beverley Foster

    I shop for clothes in the city centre. I go to Clifton Moor and Monks Cross for supermarkets and B&Q but it never occurs to me to go to the shops there. I know that they’re likely to hold more stock than in the centre but I don’t think I would enjoy the experience. I like the fact that I can just nip into Jigsaw to have a look at the fireplace at the back. I like the variety of businesses – a clothes shop next to a restaurant next to a hairdressers or a delicatessen. I like that I can even buy my nuts and swimming costumes in the same shop.

    My favourite shops are Via Vecchia, Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe, Mango and Zara. The last two are cheap enough to leave money for spending in the first two.

    York is definitely not just for tourists. I rely on the department stores, the market, my hairdresser, Tullivers for herbs, the cobblers, the alteration shop on Swinegate, Barnitts for just about everything. I eat out in the centre, I use the art gallery and museums, the Museum Gardens, the theatres, the pubs, the City Screen and Marks and Spencer for food on pay day. Why would I drive to an out of town shopping centre when I live in a great city which the romans designed to be small enough to walk across?

  3. YorkStories

    You’re right Beverley, York city centre does feel more ‘human-sized’. You mentioned the larger stores holding more stock – I often feel like they hold too much for my brain to cope with. The very vastness of the planned John Lewis would put me off going.

  4. Helen Harrison

    I’m so glad you mentioned the charity shops, Lisa! I get quite annoyed when people give them a bad press; they are a win-win for everyone I think. York’s charity shops are the best I’ve seen anywhere, (except possibly Durham, with its Oxfam Boutique), and I rarely buy new clothes these days.

    So glad you mentioned Renaissance and Wooden Horse – both sadly missed – and does anyone remember a little upstairs ‘ethnic’ boutique in Goodramgate, over the top of the Indian restaurant I think it was? That was a bargain place to buy Indian clothes when I was a student in the 1980s.

    Much as I like John Lewis, I have no intention of abondoning the city centre – a first class market, wonderful atmosphere, huge choice of cafes, great local food shopping… and where would we be without Barnitts??

    Love York…!


  5. drake Richards

    anyone remember Alpha Nova and it’s liquorice allsort jumpers ??? Superdry simply isn’t btw

  6. YorkStories

    Does anyone remember the upstairs boutique Helen mentions, or Alpha Nova?

    (I’ve remembered having to go to Leeds to a shop I think was called Wizard, to buy a white sleeveless afghan coat … because a group of us all wanted one in 1983. Strange the things we buy at certain times in our lives, isn’t it.)

  7. I do remember the shop in goodramgate…wasn’t it above a sort of kitchen equipment sort of place? It was indeed cheap, I bought lots of those fringed skirts from there well up until the early nineties. I miss renaissance and Audery, the brilliant lady who owned it with her husband. I remember she had a heart attack and wasn’t too well and that they were selling the place last time I was there. I liked wooden horse, my husband and I bought Rajahstani puppets there and alsort of embroidered thingies. I didn’t know it had closed as it’s ages since I’ve been to York, mainly because it now cost a fortune on the train from Manchester.

  8. YorkStories

    I wish I remembered it – but I do remember those skirts you mention Eileen! They had an elasticated waist as I recall. I had a red one. Or possibly several in different colours, over the years.

  9. Ladies and their ‘’Shopping Hobby’s’’!,I remember my purchases,war and post war times,were very meagre/economical .Work clothes from Boyes’store next to Ouse Bridge,or the Army and Navy Store in Foss Gate.Best suit from Alexanders in Parliament St,and other (now called Leisure Clothes),payed weekly at the ‘Cheque Shop’,on the corner of Church St and Kings Square.Similar method in acquiring that essential York transport,the ‘Bikey’,from Russells cycle shop in Clifford St,and helping to block the roads during factory leaving times!.

  10. the shop was called kitchen bazzar! and you were bound to have some of those skirts, Hun, some of them had embroidery round the bottom too. I’m sorry this isn’t really about York. Me and my husband used to come to York regularly because we could get things that you couldn’t get in Manchester. There was a shop on Holgate rd that used to sell magick books and things and I loved the second hand book shops. The highlight of a day out was wine in oscars garden before it went scarily trendy. I also used to like Thomases facing the museum gardens in the early eighties I guess they had to get rid of the gas lights for health and safety reasons.

  11. Racing Green ? Coney St Popular mail order business but with a limited High St presence . Owned by dear old Sir Phillip.

  12. JohnCooper

    Does anyone remember if the close shop on the corner of ouse bridge and Skeldergate in the late 70’s possibly early 80’s was a Huxtables.I know there was one down Fossgate.

    • Yeah,Defo was Huxtables remember it well getting my Levi Jean’s there then going home put the new Jean’s on fill bath and sit in it so the Jean’s would shrink to your legs.Haha Good old days.

  13. can you plese tell myself and wifeof the ld shop which used to be next to the old press office in coney street york, not leak and thorpes

  14. can anyonerememberthe nameof shops in coney
    street which were between the old press office and mansion house many thanksjohn

  15. looking for names of old shops in coney street between the old press office and mansion house, wife thinks it was a clothes kind of shop,

  16. lookingfor names of old shops in coney street beteween the old press ofivce and mansion housewife tinks itused to bea clothes shopmany thanks john

  17. In the article you mention the gas showroom on davygate. Was this a British Gas shop or something? I remember it being there in the 80s and my mum going in to pay a bill or something, the man had a manual card payment ‘machine’ and I’m fairly sure there was a one way gate or barrier type thing. I only started paying attention to town around 2000 and most things had changed a lot by then. Borders opened on davygate 98 or 99 and I remember it was massive and kept going back away from the road for ages. And there was a Starbucks or something on the top floor.

    Also does anyone remember the lift in BHS? I remember it was partitioned off from the lighting section into like a stock area and going in there as a child is was a bit like looking behind the curtain.

    Similarly the davygate arcade I remember but can’t remember if there was anything in it other than the entrance to BHS.

    Does anyone remember the stonegate arcade or whatever it was called? Cut through between Blake Street and stonegate. I remember nothing about that other than there being water involved? Was it enclosed?

    I love this city.

    • Hi Mark – I knew I’d seen some old photos at some point of the gas showroom on Davygate, and also the arcade, but it’s taken me a while to locate them.

      The local Press website has a gallery of images, including several of the gas showroom and the Davygate arcade: 31 old photos of Davygate & the Davygate Centre. There’s a particularly good view of the gas showroom at number 16 as you scroll through: this link might work in taking you directly to it. An interesting-looking building, which I vaguely remember, thanks for adding your memories of it.

      See also this link which has more info on the replacement building, when it housed Borders.

      You also mention the Stonegate Arcade – I wrote about it here on York Stories a few years back: In search of the Stonegate Arcade.

  18. Ros Batchelor

    How far back does anyone remember the shop at the bottom of Petergate, near Kings Square which was Petergate Fish & Chips (now Drakes)? It was a confectionery shop and cafe up to at least 1928 and I am wondering when it changed to fish and chips.

  19. Howard Kettle

    Does anyone remember exactly where Trax jeans shop was and know what is there now. I’m going back to 1978, so I realise this may be a tall order!

    • Margaret Spaven bee Hampson

      I remember the shops on Coney Street The jeans shop was
      on Goodramgate I think there was Top Shop ,BHS numerous
      smaller shops the further up was Debenhams there was of course Woolworths The Willow Chinese restaurant .I Can see it all In my minds eye and have many happy memories
      if shopping in Coney Street and going down Coney Street
      on nights out short cut to Stone Gate The Olde Star INN
      Happy days hope you remember these too

  20. I’m trying to remember a dress or materials shop mid century (my mother remembers her 1st job there) called something like Rayners – on Ousegate or Lendal (not sure which) and could have been open to the 1960s. Anyone remember this? I’m trying to write up a family history.

  21. Ray
    The drapers shop on High Ousegate was called Hardings. It was in the building that later became Habitat. The shop was quite famous for its very elaborate window displays.
    I am sure that I have seen several photographs of the shop, probably in one of the many books on historic York.
    I believe it was trading until the late sixties, early seventies.

  22. Collette Kendall

    Does anyone remember a fashion shop top of coney street near city screen. Menswear upstairs sold police jeans shirts etc think it was ladies wear downstairs maybe early 2000s. Think they also had a branch in Leeds

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