End of era as Helios Fountain closes in Grassmarket

Jos Bastiaensen in his shop Helios Fountain on the Grassmarket. Pic: Kenny Smith
Jos Bastiaensen in his shop Helios Fountain on the Grassmarket. Pic: Kenny Smith
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THE owner of a Grassmarket institution closing down after more than three decades is calling on more to be done to draw customers back to the area.

Jos Bastiaensen has decided to shut landmark gift shop Helios Fountain after revealing he would be facing “likely bankruptcy” if he kept it open.

Before he began his closing down sale, turnover was so low it did not cover the wages of his only member of staff and at times he could be waiting up to two hours to see a customer.

But the 61-year-old believes that the area’s fortunes can still be revived if regular events, including street theatre, are introduced.

He said: “It could become the Covent Garden of Edinburgh. It really has a lot to offer. It’s not covered with a roof but otherwise it’s not dissimilar with lots of shops selling stuff you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

“It is one of the only open spaces in the centre of Edinburgh that has been developed specifically to have events, so it seems a shame not to use it for that, having gone to the trouble of spending £2 million on it.”

He added: “I think the trick lies in doing things often. Rather than having three events in a year, have two a month, but make it affordable.”

The Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District was set up in February 2013, with one of its objectives being to “attract more footfall to the area.” But statistics from Essential Edinburgh show a drop of 20.2 per cent when comparing February 2015 to February 2014.

There was also a drop between January 2015 and January 2014 of 24.2 per cent, and of 24.7 per cent between December 2014 and December 2013.

“If footfall has dropped by 20 per cent then I can conclude that they are not managing to increase footfall,” Mr Bastiaensen said.

He also admitted that he was “mystified” by the downward trend, suggesting that the recession, accessibility issues and the growth of online shopping may all have created a “multiple whammy”.

He stressed that it was “in principle possible” to make the Grassmarket a thriving shopping area once more, particularly if almost all of the Business Improvement District’s budget was spent on events.

Edinburgh Napier University business commentator Graham Birse described the suggestion as a “good idea”.

He added: “But I think the issue in the Grassmarket is that it’s become very much a focus for licensed premises serving drink and not as a retail environment.

“Having said that, there are some really interesting shops on Victoria Street and events could draw people down here.

“Thanks to landscaping, the public realm [in the Grassmarket] is much better, and events like street busking competitions might act as a magnet.”

The shop will shut later this year after the closing down sale and is then due to be leased to tattoo artist David Corden.

Mr Bastiaensen may start a part-time job following 
the shop closure and is considering volunteering in a business mentoring scheme for young people.