Over the years, a great many businesses have been opened in York but subsequently closed. York is a hotbed of tiny independent shops often selling things that are unique or which you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Many of these shops burn brightly, but briefly. York is a city where a lot of people go for the shopping, and some shops have become iconic within the city.
Only the most special shops make it past their first three years in business. In a city of high rents and obscene city business rates, a shop in York city centre has to be extremely busy to actually break even. Some shops have made it, and have become legendary in York. There are other shops which are very successful, of course, but these are the ones that, for me, sum up the essence of what York is.
Here are the top 10 most iconic independent shops in York:
Have you ever wanted to own a real sword? Like, a fully working one complete with handle and pointy bit? Are you perhaps a hero beginning your quest to save an 8-bit videogame blob from another 8-bit videogame blob? Or maybe you like re-enacting stuff? If so, then you need to go to York Armoury. They sell swords. And some other armaments.
Stonegate’s Original Teddy Bear Shop
Okay, you’ve got a sword, now you need something to stab. No, I’m only kidding. Don’t stab teddy bears. That’s mean. If you like soft toys, this is the place to go. Don’t forget to take an Instagram selfie with the giant life-size teddy bear!
The Minster Gate Bookshop
This place is amazing. Floor upon floor upon floor of second hand books. You could spend hours in here and still not scratch the surface. Luckily, the people running it are excellent at knowing where to find everything. If you’re a student and you have any rare and unusual books, this is also one of the places where you can sell them. No, they don’t want your sociology textbook, though.
Speaking of books, around the corner from The Minster Gate Bookshop is Travelling Man, on Goodramgate. This is a comic book shop. If you like comics, this is the place to be.
York Glass Shop
Okay this one might sound a little dull but it’s on the Shambles, it’s been around forever, and they are also the official start point of the York Cat Trail, which is a bit of an institution in and of itself. What is a cat trail? All your life you’ve wanted the world to have more cats in it, right? You can get all the details inside the shop.
W. Hammond York Whitby Jet Shop
Jet is a semi-precious substance made from fossilized wood, it washes up on the shore of Whitby, a nearby coast town (which is also worth a visit). You can browse a huge range of jet products in this shop and it would make for a beautiful souvenir of your time in York, or perhaps a gift for a loved one.
This shop is a bit unusual in York compared to the shops around it. It’s a fascinating curiosity shop with a difference. They sell handicrafts made around the world by Fairtrade communities such as in Africa or Asia. If you want to ensure your money supports some of the most impoverished people in the world, take a look at the unique and beautiful handicrafts available in Shared Earth.
Abraham Moon Yorkshire Tweed
Did you know real English tweed is still being handmade in Yorkshire? One of the traditional British industries is still alive. You can buy tweed from the Abraham Moon Yorkshire Tweed shop. It doesn’t get more Yorkshire than that.
A shop dedicated to fudge, the Fudge Kitchen is famous for the unique array of various fudges they have on offer. They sometimes give out little samples on quiet days in the off-season. Many years ago, as a broke student in 2006, I tried one of these samples. I couldn’t afford to buy any of the fudge (I actually couldn’t afford to buy groceries that week), but I still remember how delicious it was. I guess including them in this list, so you can find them too, is my way of saying thank you to Fudge Kitchen for letting me have that fudge.
Most of the shops on this list will appeal to tourists, but Barnitt’s is definitely a shop that’s more geared to locals or people staying here for a couple of weeks or more. If you need something for your house or hotel room, this is where to find it. Need cutlery? Or a mug that isn’t £20 and doesn’t say York on it? Maybe a Swiss Army Knife or an archaeological pointing trowel? How about a door stop to feel secure in your room? A lamp? You can buy all of these things and more in this magical Aladdin’s cave of practical items.