I am, sadly, of such advanced years that I can recall the days when cars were allowed to pull up and park on Princes Street. I remember my folks driving up to just outside RW Forsyth’s or Jenners, slotting their white Vauxhall Viva estate into a space, and off we went.
No parking ticket to worry about, no parking charges, no risk of the car being obliterated by a bulldozer ripping up the road to make a tram line. Just straight out the car and into the shops, a bite to eat and then off home again to Falkirk.
What made those infrequent 1970s jaunts to Edinburgh so exciting for me were the shops. Great big meccas to the art of buying, stuffed with things I definitely never saw on sale at home, displayed in grandeur and sold with ceremony and flair that seemed to suggest you were worshipping at the feet of the shopping gods.
Had the good Lord granted these stores a voice, they would surely have declared in Miss Jean Brodie tones that they were indeed the “crème de la crème”, simply much better, smarter and far more luxurious than anything sad old third rate Falkirk – which didn’t even have a Marks & Spencer – might have to offer.
Polished brass and stained glass, grand staircases and glittering chandeliers. On the shelves were exciting things from home and far-flung places, things you didn’t know you needed and clothes that were made by craftsmen and women and not churned out, mass produced by desperate foreign workers.
They were bought, carefully wrapped and slotted into a carrier bag you were proud to be seen swinging.
Of course like the free for all car parking, those days drifted away a good few years ago. Greedy High Street chains gobbled up the street, sucking away what made it special – apart from the view – and left just a glorified version of any high street.
Jenners was last to fall. Former rivals Frasers swooped and killed the street’s fatted calf, and once individual and unique, Jenners just became another Frasers and I, for one, wasn’t impressed.
Now, having limped on for far too long, efforts are under way to give Jenners a shot in the arm. The store’s management has teamed up with Edinburgh deli favourites Valvona & Crolla to create a small flavour of how things once were in the form of a 3000sq ft gift hall stocked with individual Scottish brands.
John Murphy, the shop’s manager, says the products echo the “heritage of Jenners”. Eventually, around 50 brands of items will become available – not exactly a whole shop but a start.
Named the Scottish Gift Hall, no doubt it’s aimed at recapturing a the tourist market, the ones who read about this marvellous Victorian shopping heaven and visit, only to leave with a Frasers bag containing something made in China.
But for those of us with fond memories of the way it was, there’s a wee flicker of hope on the horizon.
We might never again park right outside our favourite shop, but at least we might once more actually want to go through its doors.