Dobson & Robinson, Ilkley: One of Yorkshire's last independent sports shops closes after more than a century of trading

One of Yorkshire’s last surviving independent sports shops is to close in the new year after more than a century of trading.

Dobson & Robinson began life as a leather goods merchant on Wells Road in Ilkley in 1916, when its customers are likely to have included well-heeled young officers serving in World War One. Over time, the business passed out of the original families’ ownership and moved to its existing premises on The Grove, the town’s main retail promenade.

Current owners Duncan and Sharron Bairstow, who have run the shop for almost 25 years, announced this week that they would cease trading in February.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The store, which is known for its strong links to local sports clubs, was part of the Inter Sport franchise for several decades, but last year the Swiss company’s UK licence was not renewed, leaving several independent shops under its banner without combined buying power. Large suppliers have declined contracts with the Bairstows, who have since lost their accounts with brands such as Nike and Wilson.

Dobson & Robinson's premises are now up for rentDobson & Robinson's premises are now up for rent
Dobson & Robinson's premises are now up for rent

The Bairstows described the change, coupled with rising rents and online competition, as the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for Dobson & Robinson.

Mr Bairstow, whose father ran a sports shop in Keighley, told The Yorkshire Post that despite his decision, he and his wife are proud of over two decades serving the local sporting community.

They have seen several generations of the same families come to purchase kit and equipment as children and have sold goods to celebrity customers, including the Emmerdale cast and a musician who had forgotten his swimming trunks for a holiday in Ilkley.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It’s had several owners since the Dobsons and Robinsons. One of them is still our landlord. In his day, it was sports, leather goods and school uniforms. On the top floor there were all these old bedrooms, and each school had its own room. He later split the building up and the top three floors are now solicitors’ offices.

Dobson & Robinson has spent the best part of a century on The Grove in IlkleyDobson & Robinson has spent the best part of a century on The Grove in Ilkley
Dobson & Robinson has spent the best part of a century on The Grove in Ilkley

"There was Peter Richardson, a hockey player who ran it in the 1950s and 60s. Back in the day, there were leather embossing machines in the basement. Sport gradually took over. The original name survived through at least the past four owners.”

After a proposed Dutch takeover of the Inter Sport licence fell through, Mr Bairstow realised the shop’s days were numbered.

"We have no buying power now. The big brands don’t want to deal with independents. Asics is our number one running shoe brand, and we just can’t replace that business. We will lose Adidas, New Balance and Under Armour next spring. We were the last Inter Sport branch left in the north, they are all gone now. The high street sports shops are no more. There are only a few specialist retailers left now. Leeds, Bradford and Keighley have no independents any more.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The internet had a big effect on our profit margins. People just Google the more expensive items we sell and then buy them cheaper. We can’t pay our overheads.”

The Grove in the early 20th century, from the Peter Tuffrey CollectionThe Grove in the early 20th century, from the Peter Tuffrey Collection
The Grove in the early 20th century, from the Peter Tuffrey Collection

The Bairstows aim to remain in the industry by continuing to supply teamwear to clubs that they have forged strong relationships with, such as Ben Rhydding Hockey Club, Ilkley Rugby Club and Ilkley Cricket Club.

"They still need that service – equipment, embroidery. Since we announced the closure, the phone has gone mad. A lot of customers have said how sorry they are, and they’ve been coming in to buy things. We know all the regulars. We’ve got a lady from the hockey club who shopped here, her son ended up playing for the first team and now her grandson is in the juniors and they’ve all been in. Ilkley is that kind of place. People grow up here, move away, then come back to have a family.

"We are still trading as normal and are still buying stock. People have been happy to support us and have not been asking for discounts because we are closing down.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"When I first came to Ilkley, I thought the town centre was bulletproof. Now shops are closing and downsizing. We don’t know if the building will stay as a shop.”

Atkinson Associates are advertising the lease of 46 The Grove with a monthly rent of £3,125.