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The building, neighbouring the main church offices at 121 George Street, will showcase the work of hundreds of Scottish artists in its new role as a retail outlet for the community interest company.
It was created in the 1930s as a matching extension to the Sydney Mitchell-designed Kirk headquarters, known to generations of churchgoers as ‘one-two-one’. Most recently, it was occupied by luxury home furnishings specialist, Anta Scotland.
Last year the Church embarked on a major restructuring aimed at realising some of its valuable estate to help address a cash shortage.
The General Assembly approved a range of measures, including a call for trustees and the presbytery of Edinburgh, to ‘identify suitable buildings that could replace the national office at 121 George Street as part of the optioneering process’.
The Scottish Design Exchange (SDX) is moving into the space following a temporary tenancy at 51 George Street – formerly the Laura Ashley Store – as part of a major expansion and the planned recruitment of new artists.
The non-profit business, which has generated more than £3million in revenue for hundreds of small, independent producers from all over Scotland, is planning to open further stores in Dundee, Aberdeen, and Inverness as part of a growth programme that was interrupted by the Covid pandemic.
The move signals a new direction for the business which aims to offer a blueprint for the revival of flagging high streets suffering the effects of competition from online retailers and the coronavirus lockdown.
Its new Edinburgh store, which covers more than 3500sq ft of retail space, provides an opportunity to display the work of up to 300 artists in a prime position to exploit high footfall among Edinburgh’s 500,000 population and the 3.45million tourists who visit the city every year.
They also stand to benefit from the newly reopened Edinburgh Christmas market with its planned move of the popular ice rink from Princes Street Gardens to George Street.
SDX founder Lynzi Leroy said: “We’re delighted to be occupying an address in the centre of Edinburgh with a rich history.
“It suits perfectly our business model of giving a high street visibility to the work of hundreds of independent producers in a space that they would not otherwise be able to afford themselves.”
The SDX launched at Ocean Terminal, Leith in 2015 as a hub for fashion designers, artists, textile and jewellery designers, publishers, photographers, and other producers to display their creations to customers without having to pay high commission rates demanded by galleries.
Tenants pay a fixed fee to rent space, so they’re not penalised for the popularity of their products.
A second outlet, in Glasgow, was launched in autumn 2018 along with an online shop which retails Scottish-made arts and design products globally.
Ms Leroy, a former manager for Shell in Kazakhstan, also plans to apply the same principle for providers of bespoke skilled services to share space. She also aims to establish high street hubs for small, independent food and drinks producers.