THERE may be some of you who might want to look away now: I have come to the realisation, perhaps belatedly, that independence is the only way forward.
Yes, words which you may never have thought I’d write, but indy is the future. And the reason for this sudden sense of self-determination?
The collapse of HMV.
Not that His Master’s Voice going bust changes my political tune to that of Alex Salmond’s, let’s just get that straight in case YesScotland think they’ve a new member. But what it has done, although the news of HMV’s demise is terrible for its 4000-odd staff, is made me hope that there might just be a sea change in the way we think about retail in this country and this city in particular.
Of course the internet shoulders some of the blame, making music as ephemeral as a bus ticket, rather than something to be coveted, an object to hold in your hand be it on vinyl or compact disc, with a sleeve to admire with outlandish artwork and lyrics to pour over and commit to memory.
Now it’s a download on a computer, as easily deleted as it was to purchase. It’s not for me. I’m in the Madonna school of thinking. I’m a material girl so when I’ve parted with my cash I want to feel the object in my hand.
But the business model of HMV and many others, Jessops for instance, another recent victim or Woolworths, is outdated. HMV was too large, its ambition too over-reaching.
Then there was the fact that its parent company had branched out in too many directions, forced to sell off its assets in the last few years to try and keep afloat, while HMV itself was also desperate to flog us computer games and other “stuff”, rather than concentrate on its core value. It’s a similar story at Waterstone’s and many, many other companies, and let’s not even start on the banks.
All seem to suffer from the same belief that the only way to be successful is to be bigger, to buy up, take over, keep expanding, and cut costs and staff (so read experience) to make a profit. Ultimately that’s an argument for cannibalism. We’re all doomed.
Certainly Princes Street does need large retailers. Its always had them and requires them to fill the floor space available. In the last few decades that has meant domination by national chains. But it wasn’t always the case.
People who like to reminisce about Edinburgh’s premier shopping street talk about stores which were found nowhere else, the Jenners of the world, Forsyths, Binns, Menzies and so on. They were big stores, but not the same as you’d find on any other high street in any other town.
Aside from the problems it has had with the trams, Princes Street’s main issue is its offer. There’s no reason to go there other than any other shopping mall, or any other town centre. Primark is big, but it’s not unique. Even Jenners has lost its allure.
So with HMV disappearing, and who knows which brand might follow, it’s time for the independents to step forward. There are many, many small shops around Edinburgh which can offer customers a service and a kind of added value to the shopping experience which monolithic chainstores could never really hope to do.
It’s the sort of thing that makes people go back time and again, because the experience is pleasurable. Certainly far more so than just waiting in and hoping that your Amazon delivery might arrive.
It’s too much to hope that Princes Street will once again become an avenue of splendid independent stores – rents will probably never allow that to happen – but when the smaller spaces become available, incentive should be given to Edinburgh’s born-and-bred retailers to take their offer to the city’s main thoroughfare.
Imagine going to stores in the city centre where you’re treated like a human being, not just a reference number on a computer screen, and where the people who work in the shops know their stuff, who truly believe that good service is part of the job, and who want to keep you as a customer rather than relying on AN Other in Someotherplace to plug the spending gap when you decide not to return. Imagine, Princes Street could one day become the place you want to go to again.
Independence in retail. Now that’s something to which I’d vote yes.
Price isn’t right
THERE have been equal amounts of gloom and glee from the news that house prices in Edinburgh have fallen by ten per cent in the last year.
Those who believe that house prices have risen way too far cheer at the prospect that homes are becoming more affordable again. Homeowners relying on their equity for a pension or a future of some kind, can only feel despondent. For those who end up in negative equity, it’s a nightmare.
There are political demands for mortgage debts to be written off to stop the latter, and for Loan to Value rates to be redrawn. In fact for the whole property sector to start again from scratch.
Unlikely as that may be, it’s like the potential to return to independent shopping. It’s all about what kind of society we want to live in.