THE Grassmarket has the potential to be a magnet for visitors outwith the usual tourist season, says Fawns Reid
Edinburgh’s most unique and quirky event spaces are often swarming with tourists and can be overlooked by those of us living closer to home. As one of the city’s oldest gathering places, the Grassmarket has hosted events for over 700 years. We were delighted when, in 2008, the city council invested £5 million refurbishing the central Grassmarket area, creating this great open Public Realm events space, surrounded by breathtaking historic architecture and overlooked by the imposing Castle. There is no other space quite like it in Scotland! However, over more recent years, whilst the key visitor months of July and August provide very healthy visitor footfall, it is our task as a Business Improvement District to be relevant to our local communities and residents who will visit and enjoy our exclusive offering all year-round, during the critical months, when smaller retailers rely on local trade.
Whilst we will always have to compete with large scale public events in other areas of the city at Christmas and New Year, our aim is to showcase the Greater Grassmarket for its independent and eclectic retailers with unique, free events. By drawing attention to the array of independent shops, eateries and historical attractions and architecture, we have something no other area of the city can compete with.
Local businesses are increasingly dependent on “self-help” to offset increases in occupancy costs, utility costs, wage costs and tough market conditions, not to mention the impact that online shopping has had on small independent traders. There is nothing to match the purchase and personal customer experience of browsing quality goods in a quirky setting – even meeting the producer – and walking away with the perfect hand-picked purchase.
Outdoor events create a buzz of activity, an opportunity for micro businesses to present their wares and a reason for visitors to “linger longer” and enjoy a lively, family- friendly environment. As well as our successful weekly Saturday market selling food and drink and hand-made gifts, we also have a range of street performances in the Grassmarket. However, more free events need to be considered throughout the year to exploit this diverse and central space and attract more local visitors.
Developing a schedule of year-round, quality events that are creative and in-tune with customer demand, whilst respecting that the Greater Grassmarket is also a residential area, is key to the area’s future success. This month’s inaugural Vintage Weekend (April 30-May 1) featuring classic cars, a vintage fashion show, retro family entertainment and variety shows is just the beginning. By focusing on what our consumers enjoy, we can organise exciting events that will interest and benefit everyone.
• Fawns Reid is chairwoman of the Greater Grassmarket BID