HOW many bars and coffee shops does a city a need? This question popped into my mind yesterday while drinking a flat white. Nice place, good coffee – and another £2.50 down the caffeine drain. A small cup, too.
It’s a good job York contains so many people willing and able to step up to the coffee mark. Where would this city be without the selfless many who are prepared to lay down our cash and our sleep in the name of progress?
And when we’ve done keeping ourselves awake with coffee, we can always make ourselves sleepy with food and booze in all the cafes and restaurants.
There are more places to eat in York than you can shake a crusty baguette at. Whether this is a good thing depends on a calculation made by multiplying your waist measurement by your overdraft.
I’d say it’s mostly for the good, although there is a cost to the city – like a hidden service charge on the bill for a meal. The bars and cafes and restaurants are moving in on us, as if in some calorific horror story by Edgar Allan Poe: soon we’ll all be squeezed to nothing.
Two interesting reports address this from slightly different directions. A study for YorkMix finds that 42 shops in central York have been turned into cafes, restaurants or bars in only eight years. A further ten, the study says, could also be set to change following recent planning decisions.
It’s a sterling piece of work that illustrates the fatty paradox of life in this city. Many people feel there are too many bars and restaurants in York, yet those places are often heaving.
A long and detailed report in the Guardian of March 29 has been shared often on social media in York. This is headlined: “How to bring a high street back from the dead” and uses Bishopthorpe Road in York as an example of how to buck the trend.
Bishy Road is crammed with local shops, cafes and restaurants, and has successfully reinvented itself by putting a modern spin on the old high street.
Kevin Rushby’s report points out something also mentioned in YorkMix: that some restaurants are struggling, with chains such as Jamie’s Italian and Bryon Burgers losing around 30 outlets between them, while Prezzo is closing 94 restaurants.
Rushby’s take on Bishy Road is that it has managed to “revive and reinvent itself during one of the harshest retailing recessions ever” – in contrast to the once-flourishing Coney Street, where 20% of units lie empty. And, yes – what a sorry sight that street is right now.
Both studies are worth seeking out online. What I take from them is the importance of local shops and businesses – and the need to encourage small, start-up businesses, as will be happening soon with the long-delayed opening of SparkYork, with its mix of restaurants, street-food bars and businesses.
Plenty of people in York like to moan about the community space made from repurposed shipping containers. Let them whinge – here’s hoping it will be a great success.
York has already seen the rise of street-food places around Shambles market, and these small, locally-run places offer a much better experience that the chains.
But it is easy to romanticise the idea of local shops and local businesses, while not supporting them. This point has been whispered into my ear by my wife; or possibly bellowed, it’s hard to say. She has worked for years in a local healthfood shop in York and is very hot on the need for people to use local shops.