Highs streets in Edinburgh and the Lothians need our help

SHOPs across the Lothians and beyond have faced one of their toughest years ever, with headlines dominated by uncertainty, job losses and closures.

Wednesday, 26th December 2018, 7:36 am
Updated Monday, 7th January 2019, 10:00 am
Our front page today. Boxing Day call to arms for Evening News readers as retailers hope for bumper sales day to cast out the gloom. Picture: EEN

But today amid the gloom and premature reports of “The Death of The High Street”, the Evening News is urging readers to rally round and support retailers big and small to keep retail – one of the most vital lifebloods of Edinburgh and its surrounding towns – flowing.

Our Boxing Day call to arms comes as stores of all sizes gear up for one of their most important trading days of the year.

An estimated 2.3 million Scottish shoppers – one in two adults – will make today Scotland’s biggest spending shopping day ever, blowing a record £403 million amid Boxing Day price cuts of up to 90 per cent.

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Andrew McRae, proprietor of four shops in the Capital including Victoria Streets Museum Context Picture: Neil Hanna

On the busiest day in high street history, the mega spree will see £315m spent in Scotland’s shops and £88m online in Scotland, a Centre for Retail Research study for VoucherCodes showed, based on interviews with 80 major UK retailers and 1,000 shoppers

Today will be almost treble Panic Saturday’s £144m before Christmas Day, and 50 per cent bigger than Black Friday’s £251m.

But the jingling tills follow a fallow few months. Figures released in November by the Scottish Retail Consortium show that the town centre vacancy rate for Scotland had increased to 11.1 per cent, almost two points higher than the UK average.

Meanwhile footfall declined by 3.6 per cent in October, the third month of continual downturn.

Donald Nairn of Morningside's Toys Galore. Picture: Neil Hanna

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium said: “Our high streets have a tremendous amount to offer, particularly at this time of year with plenty of bargains to be had in the Boxing Day sales.

“Ultimately the health and vibrancy of our high streets is in the hands of shoppers themselves, which is why it is so crucial that people get out and enjoy all that there is on offer.”

For retail business owners, the figures are sobering, but it is hoped that the Boxing Day sales will bolster the sector which has been hit by disappointing sales in the run-up to Christmas.

For Donald Nairn, owner of Toys Galore in Morningside, online shopping retailers and increasing parking charges are two of the biggest challenges he faces as an independent business owner.

He said: “There’s no questions it’s much harder than five years ago.

“You’ve got the rise of online shopping and the council putting up parking to an exorbitant level. When the parking charges are put up you’re just encouraging people to drive out of the town centre.

To compete with chain and online retailers, Mr Nairn believes he offers his customers something that his competitors cannot – personal service and items that can’t be found elsewhere.

He said: “We have to give people who come in to the shop a reason why. Independent shops have a very important role which is to bring interesting stuff to the market and offer a service like no other.”

Concrete Wardrobe on Broughton Street which has been “attacked from all angles”, according to owner James Donald who echoes the concerns of Mr Nairn.

He said: “There’s the online sales problem and the parking situation. We’ve had the road works and the loss of the parking at John Lewis. It’s quite tricky, we have to stay ahead of the game.”

Trading for 18 years, the shop stocks items made in Scotland or by makers who have trained in Scotland.

Mr Donald said: “it’s important for people to shop and spend locally because then the money stays in the community. You’re benefitting people who are working hard and who are themselves spending what they earn locally.

“If you support the local butcher, the local grocer, the local independent shops then these spaces will flourish. There’s just no benefit to the community with lots of empty shops.”

For Andrew McRae, proprietor of four shops in the Capital including Victoria Street’s Museum Context, encouraging people to stay local in their shopping habits is “good for everyone.”

He said: “We rely on local customers all year but particularly this time of the year given how challenging it is on the high street.

“We’re trying to make a difference by employing local people and supporting a network of additional suppliers and service providers – that’s the difference in deciding to spend locally, there’s a much higher likelihood that money will be reinvested into the community.

“We’re at a critical point on the high street. Every sale counts and we need people to continue coming or we lose the vibrancy and [places will] start to lose their character.”