Traders check out of Royal Mile amid tartan tat fear

Ralph Hepburn

Ralph Hepburn

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Two independent traders are to shut up shop on the Royal Mile, sparking fears of yet more tartan tat and complaints over soaring rent.

Bagpipes Galore, which has been on the Canongate for 18 years, has moved away from the historic thoroughfare after owner Ralph Hepburn was told by the city council his rent was to rise from £8000 a year to £13,500.

Scottish Soap Works, which was hit with a 25 per cent rent increase, is also leaving the Canongate after eight years.

Both stores will relocate to other parts of the city instead, but the news has sparked criticism of the council, which has set up a new strategy for the Royal Mile that aims to encourage more independent firms to set up on the street instead of more tourist souvenir shops.

The council is the biggest property owner on the street, with 45 different properties.

Mr Hepburn, who is today relocating his Bagpipes Galore shop to Haymarket Terrace, said the rise was a “massive blow” after he had already spent three years cutting his costs.

He said: “Obviously the council has got to maximise its revenue but a lot of people I’ve spoken to say getting rid of shops like this won’t help in the long term because the diversity is going to be eradicated.”

He said he felt the council had used the fact that he had built up a customer base over 18 years as a tool to force him to accept the new rent rates.

However, council officials said that they did offer an alternative location for his shop in the Pleasance area before he decided to move to Haymarket Terrace instead, while the rent for the Canongate store had not increased since 2003.

Social enterprise Scottish Soap Works, also on the Canongate, is to relocate to Duddingston Yards.

Owner Mike Finlayson said: “We were faced with a 25 per cent rent hike this year, and so that was not the final straw but a factor.

“That said, the council aren’t any different from any other landlord insofar as they have to get the market rate.”

Council economic officials have drawn up a strategy for the Royal Mile that includes a proposal to charge lower rents in shops it owns if traders agree not to sell tartan tat.

Councillor Jason Rust, economic development spokesman for the Tory group, said: “This seems at odds with the council’s policy drive to attract independent retailers to the Old Town and will put off independent retailers.”

Cllr Tom Buchanan, economic development leader, said: “The council is keen to encourage a large mix of occupiers in the Old Town.”