New ‘virtual’ York city centre aims to help local retailers amid COVID-19 crisis
A local business woman is leading a team to launch an initiative to fight back against the threat posed by COVID-19 to York’s local economy, by creating a virtual city centre. The global pandemic has seen footfall in affected towns and cities collapse, even before governments moved to close shops and instruct people to stay home.
Rebecca Fewtrell, professional singer, record label owner and founder of the award-winning York Proms summer picnic concert, had the idea when discussing the impact of the decrease in city centre footfall with fellow female entrepreneurs in the local networking group MPWR. An independent retailer mentioned people could ring up and pay over the phone, then they would deliver the goods locally.
Rebecca says “When I realised we didn’t have an online version of the city centre where we could easily host shop pages for local retailers, I looked into the viability of setting this up. It needs to be more than just a listings directory; it needs to be the best possible replication of the beating heart of our city, where people can go and actually buy goods, instead of heading straight to sites like Amazon.
As someone who spent many years as a street performer in York, and around the UK, I learnt a lot about what holds a city centre together and makes it special, makes people want to visit. It has been a tough time for high street businesses anyway, but this latest crisis is a disaster for local retailers.”
The new website will feature shop pages for individual retailers, but will also provide a way to direct people to buy gift vouchers for restaurants and cafes for use after the crisis has passed, to help with their cash flow and to help rebuild. It will also include a creative space for things like live streams of music events that would otherwise be cancelled because people have been told not to visit pubs.
“We plan to use all available modern technology to help bring the community together and create a network of customers and retailers. Rather than people automatically going to Amazon or major online shops, I’d like to see people spending their money in the local community, helping to support local jobs and the local economy. Even though people will be concerned about incomes, we will all still need to make purchases, whether it’s a new pair of shoes for your child, a birthday gift for mum, kitchen accessories, clothes, jewellery and much more. The government is urging companies to diversity and get online, so we are helping with that.”
The page has already attracted over 2,000 page likes and over 1,000 shoppers have signed up for the regular mailings since Monday morning. Retailers can sign up for a shop page, with priority being given to physical retailers and market traders who will still have overheads to cover when their business is closed to the public. People can find out more and sign up at www.yorkhighstreet.com. Shop pages are already being loaded onto the site and will go live within the next couple of days so locals will be able to start buying products.
“By Monday evening 23rd March, new shoppers were signing up at the rate of one every minute, which shows how much demand there is for supporting local retailers at this uncertain time. I expect demand to grow even more as people look for ways to make purchases online.”