Leaping Into The 21st Century With A 100-Year-Old Sweet Shop

Continuing to shine a light on Skipton’s unique independent businesses that have survived the lockdown, we look at the town’s oldest existing retail shop and how it has embraced the changing times.

By Liz Smailes, Marketing & Communications Officer, Skipton BID

Sarsaparillas Sweet Shop in Skipton

Imagine stepping into a shop filled floor to ceiling with sweets, row upon row of colourfully- packed jars that evoke memories of everyone’s childhood corner shop. You’ve mentally heard the shop doorbell ring and your eyes begin scanning the shelves for the penny treats your pocket money used to buy.

With a prime location at the top of the High Street, Sarsaparillas Sweet Shop has attracted customers like bees to a honey pot decade after decade. One tripadvisor review claims, “If you can step out of here without a purchase, you have no soul.”

For the last 100 years, customers have entered Skipton’s oldest existing retail shop with wide eyes and watering mouths, and left with some new sweet discoveries and some old familiar favourites. Skipton naturally attracts visitors all year round because of it’s 900 year old castle and popular street market three times a week. Adding to the appeal is the Leeds to Liverpool canal flowing through town and Yorkshire Dales on the doorstep just waiting to be explored. So when lockdown was introduced, the whole town suddenly felt the deserted. Sarsaparillas had everyone’s favourite sweets and nobody to sell them to.

Buying retro sweets online is an oxymoron to begin with and it should come as no surprise to hear that Skipton’s century old sweetshop wasn’t set up for digital trading in March 2020.   Their business is operated on “good old fashioned values such as great customer service and customer satisfaction.” We asked the current owner what it was like to leapfrog into the 21st century with a shop that first began trading in 1920.

Keeping it Sweet at Sarsaparillas

By Jon Costello

This year should have been a milestone for us, as we are celebrating 100 years of trading as a sweet shop in Skipton. However, with plans in place to celebrate, these had to be put on hold because of the Covid-19 crisis.

As a small business, along with countless others our immediate thoughts were, “how are we ever going to survive this?” 

The Internet Revelation Of The Century

We hatched a plan to tap into the obvious but daunting opportunity that an online shop would give us. I set about building a website and spent the first two weeks listing and photographing hundreds of products. 

For the first time in the shop’s history, a website was built within 14 days and online trading began in April 2020.
Social media became the new trading communication channel and the shop’s owners discovered they had a much wider following than they ever imagined.

14 days later we had a website, but how to promote it?  We needed to discover the power of social media and for someone like me, who has never used Facebook this was another challenge. 

Listing done and posts completed, we waited for a response…. Wow, we had a lifeline again! 

The next challenge was to make it work from a customer service angle and get cracking with deliveries and the logistics of it all. We soon discovered we had a wide base of loyal and amazing customers, from further afield than we ever imagined!  

Shop Rennovations

Changes have been made to the customer area of the shop to be covid compliant for business.

As the weeks past we kept busy, but the time came to think about the impossible, how to reopen our tiny shop, whilst keeping COVID compliant and still be able to have a viable business.

Our shop can be extremely busy and rammed to the limits on a busy weekend, but we cant be like that anymore… What to do? 

A brainstorming session later we came up with a total change to our shop layout that would maximise customers in the store, although this is still only two, and also speed up the purchase process for the customer.  A week spent in the shop enabled the changes to be made and out of adversity we have many, many positive changes that we will probably continue with in the future.  Prebagging of many items has made purchasing much more convenient for our customers, although we haven’t moved totally away from our traditional practices and you can still buy a bag of sweets by the quarter.

Continuing The Trip Down Memory Lane

Our door is open again now, so please visit us, and we might even tempt you with some liquorice – Our passion for liquorice began with a passion for sweets.

What the future holds, nobody knows, but we are at least confident we can ride the storm for now.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the amazing comments received and it’s been so great to see all our regular customers again, and so many happy faces.  

A massive Thank you to all who have supported us and continue to support us. We are already planning celebrating 101 years of trading next year. 

Here’s to the next 100 years! 

When non-essential retail could reopen their doors from June 15th, Jon was one of the first of Skipton’s shop owners to welcome his customers back.

Sarsaparillas Sweet Shop

1 Mill Bridge


BD23 1NJ


email: sarsaparillasskipton@outlook.com

Tel: 07984446340