One in ten shops lies empty as city centre firms struggle

Empty shops on Princes Street
Empty shops on Princes Street
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One in every ten shops in Edinburgh’s city centre is lying empty as the Capital continues to suffer at the hands of the global economic downturn.

A total of 51 shops, bars and restaurants across the main city centre blocks are vacant and boarded up, which is equivalent to the number of units in a whole shopping centre.

Research by the Evening News has revealed that 9.1 per cent of all units are empty as a result of both small firms having to call it a day and larger chains going into administration. That is an increase on figures from February last year, which showed 7.8 per cent of shops in the city centre were empty.

The figures are set to rise even further, with this week’s announcement that lingerie specialist La Senza is to close two of its Edinburgh stores.

On Princes Street nine of the 81 units are empty, while Queensferry Street has been the main street hit hardest by closures, with more than one in five of all units unoccupied.

Some of the closures include a GameStation on Princes Street, a Royal Bank of Scotland branch on George Street and The Allotment restaurant on Castle Street.

But there are some encouraging signs, with recent openings including a flagship Primark branch on Princes Street and maternity clothing firm JoJo Maman Bebe on Multrees Walk. News of the opening of an Apple store at the east end of Princes Street is expected imminently, while fashion chain Hollister – part of the fashionable Abercrombie & Fitch group – is also opening a store on George Street.

The ratio of empty shops in the city is slightly lower than the UK average of 11.1 per cent.

Sarah Cordey, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Christmas has been key and retailers are trying to make up for a poor retail year. Retail performance across Scotland has generally been weaker than the rest of the UK for the entire year and consumer confidence has been weaker too. November was the worst fall in sales values since we started our survey in 1999.”

The street hit hardest within the study area, which covers the area between Princes Street and Queen Street, was South St David Street, where three of the five shops are empty, after a major development on the street stalled. On Melville Place, two of the six retail units – the former Watch shop and the old Scottish Restaurant – are empty.

Queensferry Street is the hardest-hit of the larger streets, with 21 per cent of its 22 shops lying empty, including some that have been empty for some time, such as the former homes of Snappy Snaps, Deli Delight, and Cockburns delicatessen.

Graham Birse, managing director of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is a sign of the challenge in bricks and mortar retail. We know how much online retail goes on throughout the year, not just at Christmas, and we know the costs for businesses of large premises.

“There are a number of reasons that retailers with significant floorplates are challenged, not just one factor, and we need to be able to understand what is unique about Edinburgh city centre and play to these strengths.”

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said: “When we know shops are going to be empty we look to initiatives like making them look as attractive as we can from the outside. We are also in touch with other agencies to see if they are interested in making better use of empty shopfronts.”