Family-run knitwear shop set to leave Coventry city center after 52 years

The 52-year-old manager of a Coventry knitwear shop says it’s “simply not feasible” to stay in the city center when his premises are being redeveloped because rents are too high. Jonathan Wilson has worked for Busy Fingers, a craft store selling yarn, patterns and crochet hooks, for about 20 years.

But the family business will be left without a city center home when the City Arcade, where it rents a unit, is demolished as part of Coventry’s £98million city center redevelopment. Wilson, 57, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the store could not afford to move anywhere else in the center.

“Everywhere we looked it’s three to four times the rent,” he said. “The store is fine, but it’s just not doable.”

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Their other store in Hinckley is “a fraction of the cost” of what it would take to stay in Coventry.

Busy Fingers was started by Jonathan’s parents and has been in the center since 1970. When asked how they felt about closing in Coventry, Jonathan replied: “They don’t really like it. It’s goodbye.”

However, he himself is more resigned to the idea: “For 12 years, we have had this waiting for us. I’m used to it, it doesn’t bother me.”

Busy Fingers customers are loyal – “a few will follow us anywhere” – and the shop has an increasingly popular online outlet. But Jonathan loves talking to customers and says people of all ages, including college students, always come here to buy their craft supplies in person.

Busy Fingers is popular with all generations – many students are customers

He criticizes the way the city council handled the redevelopment. “They don’t tell us anything, there’s been no communication,” he said. “I don’t think they are more embarrassed than that.”

Plans to demolish the City Arcade and other downtown housing, hotel and retail buildings were given the green light last year. A Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) has now been placed for the land and developers Shearer Property Group hope to start work within the next nine months.

Councilor Jim O’Boyle, a cabinet member responsible for jobs, regeneration and climate change, told the LDR service that people from across the city had been involved in the redevelopment. He said agents have gone to speak to businesses in the City Arcade to help them find new premises, while some have already found alternative space.

Fingers busy in Coventry's City Arcade
Busy fingers in Coventry’s City Arcade

He stressed the scheme is a “huge opportunity” for Coventry, creating jobs and housing and attracting new businesses to the centre. Cllr O’Boyle also said the arcade is costing the city money and efforts by the authority to revive it have not been successful. “It’s difficult but it’s the right decision,” he said.