The York Ghost Merchants is a quirky shop in the centre of the historic - and reputedly very haunted - city of York, which sells only one thing: their own unique, handmade ghost ornaments. These spooky souvenirs have become quite popular with collectors worldwide.
The York Ghost Merchants opened their shop in summer 2019. They are located on Shambles, a picturesque narrow medieval street with overhanging buildings. Their shop is intentionally old-fashioned, with a Georgian-inspired interior and their outfits and customer experience are evocative of that period, through to Victorian and Edwardian times. The crossed inverted torches of their logo is inspired by graveyard and cemetery symbolism: inverted torches like theirs represent death of the body, but the flame signifies the soul's immortality.
The ghosts they sell are all made by the Merchants themselves; initially in the small workshop just above the Shambles retail space. In 2021 they expanded production into a second premises nearby (called 'the Tannery'). They partner with skilled craftspeople to produce premium and strictly-limited 'Black Box' ghosts in other materials.
I discovered the York Ghost Merchants, via Instagram, during the early 2020 UK lockdown. I bought my first ghosts online towards the end of May, and started collecting. At that time, with the physical shop closed, and before they were well known, regular small batches of ghosts were offered for sale online each Friday. They sold out within minutes, but I managed to catch most I tried for. The regular 'ghost post' was a welcome distraction from the pandemic bleakness.
Ghosts seemed to become an especially popular motif during 2020, if my Instagram feed was anything to go by. Amongst the - admittedly spooky - people I was following, the character of a 'sheet ghost' was literally the zeitgeist; perhaps a less threatening image through which to mentally process the pandemic, when it felt like death was all around. The York Ghosts were a very tactile, elegant manifestation of the icon. One of my first ghosts was a little red ghost called a 'Scarlet Talisman', and the ghosts are meant to have a talismanic quality about them; the Merchants motto is 'Good fortune & fortitude'.
My first in-person visit to the shop was during Halloween Week 2020. The York Ghost Merchants held their first official 'Ghost Week' event. Including a seek-and-keep hunt for some of their smaller ghost ornaments, this was part of a wider collaboration with York's many independent businesses. Ghost Week celebrates York's claim as possibly the most haunted city in the world; the inspiration behind the York Ghost Merchants' business and a key part of York's attraction for tourists.
The first day I got there for opening, and I had to queue a long time. Anyone visiting on weekends or during holiday times now will likely have to queue for a while; in October 2020 the issue was more the 'one household only' limit than mass numbers of visitors. It's worth it though: once inside the shop, you'll see it's unlike anywhere else. There are rows of differently-coloured and patterned ghosts on the shelves, with no two exactly alike. There are peepholes and hidden details in the decor to spot. You can take photos of your ghosts in a mini Shambles diorama and - if you're lucky - a small train might deliver your purchased ghosts to the door when you leave.
I consider myself lucky to have become acquainted with the Merchants; they have been very kind to their customers and aim to offer service and an experience very different from a normal shop. Their need to maintain the local integrity of their ghosts, and limited online selling presents challenges as they have grown in popularity, but it's all part of what makes them so special. In addition to the ghosts themselves, the Ghost Merchants have put a lot of effort into engaging their customers with puzzles and competitions, as well as making charitable donations. To see their updates, and for information about any online sales, please follow their Facebook or Instagram pages.
I have since returned to York for the second Ghost Week in 2021, and hope to get to some of Ghost Week III. My collection of York Ghosts occasionally gets new additions thanks to fellow collectors I have had the good fortune to befriend. For a bit more detail about the different types of ghosts made, take a look at the archive on the York Ghost Merchants website and my overview: The York Ghost Merchants: A Collectors' Glossary.