‘Bland’ Royal Mile full of cashmere shop clones

Dr Stephen Harwood says cashmere shops abound on the Royal Mile. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Dr Stephen Harwood says cashmere shops abound on the Royal Mile. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A TOP academic has slammed the march of cashmere shops along the Royal Mile, saying he fears the thoroughfare is slinking into woolly blandness.

Business guru Dr Stephen Harwood has conducted an annual audit of the historic street since 2011, and says there has been a proliferation of shops selling luxury wool garments.

While he says there are encouraging signs the quality of souvenirs for sale in shops is improving, he fears blanketing the noble cobbled street is leading to a loss of identity and a ”certain blandness”.

He said: “One shop is becoming like another and that is rather sad because there are a few gems on the Royal Mile which do offer something
that is quite distinct from these.”

Dr Harwood, of the Edinburgh University Business School, said the painstaking 100-page survey showed there was “more of the same” retailers offering tourist souvenirs although keepsakes were improving in quality and authenticity.

He said: “I would argue there is definitely an overall improvement in terms of merchandise but that is coming at the cost of a sameness.

“I wonder whether there is thought given to what is being sold – whether there is an emphasis on making a quick buck – or if there’s a desire to ensure they reflect heritage?”

The survey comes as the city considers introducing a no-clutter bylaw outlawing shambolic shop-fronts hawking cheap kilts and tartan tat under plans to improve the aesthetics of the Royal Mile.

The radical move is part of a wider project to revive the halcyon days of the Royal Mile.

Bill Cowan, planning secretary of Edinburgh Old Town Community Council, said he agreed “100 per cent” with the findings of Harwood’s report.

Cashmere retailers, however, said they were catering to an elite clientele and that their businesses added a chic look to
the Mile.

One trader, who did wish to be named, said: “We’re as far from tartan tat as you can get. We offer an exclusive, quality product the tourists like. On a chilly night people heading to the Tattoo may stop and buy a shawl for example, that’s a large part of our trade.”

Councillor Ian Perry, the city’s planning convener, said they he was “acutely aware” of the need to improve the retail offering on the Royal Mile.

He said: “Our desire is to support the creation of a revitalised thoroughfare that caters for both residents and visitors but we also acknowledge
that there is no easy quick-fix solution to the concerns. We will be meeting with retailers in September to discuss a way forward, which will not only look at how retailers present their goods on the street but will also address the diversity of the retail offering.”

He said tackling the Scottish Government’s fixed business rates was a key issue.