Grassmarket loses festive trade as footfall drops

Grassmarket visitor numbers dropped by 17.6 per cent in November. Picture: Greg Macvean
Grassmarket visitor numbers dropped by 17.6 per cent in November. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Plummeting winter footfall in the Grassmarket has sparked fears struggling businesses are losing out on valuable Christmas trade.

Visitor numbers dropped by 17.6 per cent during November, despite a rise across Edinburgh as a whole – leaving the Grassmarket with fewer festive shoppers than Leith Walk.

Business chiefs blamed “disappointing” figures on the concentration of Christmas events in the city centre and warned a shake-up was needed.

Georgia Artus, project manager for the Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District (BID) – which represents a string of local businesses – insisted the lack of festive attractions was just one reason footfall was falling.

She said: “For the first seven months of the year we were up on footfall, which I thought was a really good sign for the BID. What we have had is a disappointing winter, but we have had a really strong first seven months.

“There are a couple of contributing factors. First of all, we did not have anything relating to Edinburgh’s Christmas this year – although the December stats have not come out yet.

“We have been working with Underbelly since last spring to try and get something for the Grassmarket and that didn’t happen, which was a huge disappointment. Last year we also decided not to have our historical event because we are going to have a much larger event this year.

“The year before we had a medieval event in September and we saw a really good increase in footfall.

“But there needs to be an infrastructure change for events to happen in the area. We would like to see a better management system for the Grassmarket space.”

Despite the Grassmarket’s poor performance, the Capital’s November footfall was up 3.5 per cent year on year in 2014 – two per cent higher than the UK average – with city centre streets seeing the biggest boost.

Princes Street was the busiest spot, with more than one million visitors flooding its pavements during November – a 2.3 per cent rise on 2013.

Kevin Buckle, owner of former Grassmarket store Avalanche Records, insisted the latest statistics presented a “massive issue”.

He said: “The fact that they are so dreadful is scary, and no-one seems to be prepared to do anything about it.

“The Grassmarket has the ability to be brilliant. All they need to do is turn it around and it will start bringing people in.”

Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, admitted footfall was “quite concentrated” around the Edinburgh’s Christmas events on Princes Street and St Andrew Square.

He added: “I think we have got to try to find some Christmas activities that we can put into some of these other areas.”

Councillor Frank Ross, the city’s economy convener, said the council was making “every effort” to investigate the Grassmarket’s poor performance.