Kevin Buckle: Support your high street shops

Shoppers would find it's worth looking further afield than the city centre at Christmas. Picture: contributed
Shoppers would find it's worth looking further afield than the city centre at Christmas. Picture: contributed
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It is that time of year again when Edinburgh is flooded with temporary Christmas markets and attractions.

Princes Street and St Andrew Square will be bustling with visitors and Christmas shoppers alike. The jury may be out on the quality of the retail stalls but there is no doubt the various fun fair rides are a great attraction and George Street now has the spectacle of the Street of Light.

But there is a problem with all this for the majority of city businesses because all these attractions dramatically skew the areas that locals and visitors are likely to go to. For those that trade all year it is a negative double whammy. Already faced with extra competition at Easter and during the Festival, they then see hundreds of traders suddenly appear in prime locations surrounded by attractions all geared to keeping people in a relatively small area around Princes Street.

The Grassmarket’s woes are well documented and exasperated by the attitude of local residents and councillors but all areas outwith the all-powerful Essential Edinburgh BID area are put at a considerable disadvantage every Christmas and New Year. Every year these temporary traders take millions of pounds of business away from those who are paying their rent and rates in the middle of February. I did ask the council for a more accurate figure but they say they have no idea of an amount beyond the obvious statement that with such high overheads the fact these temporary traders return year after year shows that a considerable amount of money is being taken.

The high street is a difficult enough place to trade these days without competition being imported every time it looks like business might improve. This extends to even a weekly basis when those who have day jobs then hire stalls on a Saturday to compete on the best trading day of the week. For those whose sole income is from their business the cards are quite simply stacked against them throughout the whole year. What is more, for most of 2016, according to Essential Edinburgh figures, retail sales for the city have performed below Scotland’s figures which in turn have been below those of the UK.

So what can be done? Assuming nothing is going to change any time soon with regards to the year-round competition businesses face, it is really up to the public to see beyond much of the Christmas tat and explore just a little further to discover the fantastic selection of independent shops that miraculously are still around.

More long term, Edinburgh council seriously needs to look at whether it wants the city to be perceived as a prime retail destination or not. For more than a decade now people have commented to me how disappointed they are, not just with Princes Street and the High Street but the general shopping experience in Edinburgh and in some ways I think they give up looking before they reach the independent shops.

The council certainly has it within its power to make a big difference owning as many buildings as they do but if every empty unit becomes one more quirky café then the balance between food and non-food retail becomes an issue too. The tram works in some ways covered a deeper problem and Edinburgh has simply done nothing to address the changing face of retail the way other cities have. Helping start-ups is one thing but they need to cherish and support established businesses too as do the public, or come Christmas 2017 they may not be there.

Music school will need help from Doctor Who

While the Broughton Spurtle speculates that the Royal High School developers may be needing Romulan technology to cloak the new elements of the design in their revised hotel plans, the RHSPT may very well need to eschew Star Trek for Doctor Who if they are to have any chance of success with their plans for a music school. It is unthinkable that an acceptable plan for the hotel will not be reached in the extensive timeframe that the developers have, so going back to a time before Duddingston House Properties won Edinburgh council’s open competition to develop the site would seem to be RHSPT’s best option.

When time travel is your best option it should not be DHP that withdraws, as Edinburgh World Heritage suggested recently, but the RHSPT who may have won hands-down in the lobbying department but unfortunately for them did so several years too late. The music school clearly has its merits as, it does have to be said, the hotel, but it is a good idea at the wrong time.

Withdrawing would at least then give Willie Gray Muir the opportunity to devote more time to the refurbishment of Leslie House, something he first promised in 2008.

Even if Mr Muir was able to add David Tennant and Peter Capaldi to his never ending list of Scottish celebrity supporters I fear it would not be enough and he should console himself with the fact that at least the hotel will also provide venues and public spaces, together with arts funding to add to the obvious economic benefits.

Can’t beat a good gatefold sleeve

There is no doubting that vinyl does sound better than other formats, but for me the biggest gap lies in the artwork, or in the case of downloads and streaming, the lack of artwork.

A well-designed sleeve will give a good idea of what the artist is about before you’ve even heard the music and of course it can be a gatefold, have a booklet and much more. It is therefore disappointing that most of the focus these days seems to be on the colour of the vinyl.

It won’t be long now before the wheels start to come off the vinyl bandwagon and the opportunity to have done much more during the vinyl revival will have been lost.