Bland slogans won’t rescue Edinburgh city centre's struggling shops - Kevin Buckle
As hospitality starts to reopen there is no doubt that for some the flexible outdoor seating arrangements and waiving of permit fees is a great help in making the current restrictions workable. However, there are still many hospitality businesses that simply can’t open at the moment and they will need continued support.
Normally in the same breath as saying what is being done to help hospitality councillors, council officials and representatives of groups such as ETAG and the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce mention not one but two initiatives by the Forever Edinburgh campaign to help retailers and in particular those in the city centre hit hardest by the massive drop in office workers, the absence of tourists and ironically the constant urging for people to “shop local”.
“The Story Never Ends” and “Shop Here This Year” campaigns by Forever Edinburgh are just the kind of uninspired efforts run by people whose own income does not depend on the results that make the council look they are doing something while actually doing next to nothing.
While acknowledging that the city centre has been hardest hit, the continuous shop local message is actually a campaign against the city centre. The first paragraph of the “Shop Here This Year” blurb says it all:
“We are running a 12-month digital campaign in the hope of inspiring you as an Edinburgh resident to re-engage with your local neighbourhood by shopping locally and supporting your local community.”
Just as worrying as the shop local emphasis is the use of the word “hope”. Businesses would be more impressed if those who run these campaigns were betting their jobs!
Avalanche has been very lucky since we were brought in to give the Waverley Mall a bigger focus on the arts and independent businesses in that the mall’s owners, Moorgarth, have been very supportive and at the same time during lockdown we saw a big increase in online sales.
Obviously the pandemic has delayed plans for the mall, including the building work on the roof, and it will be even harder in the future for independent businesses to thrive in such an environment, even with continued help. However until there is a decision about how business rates are calculated no city centre business can be sure of survival while the economy slowly recovers.
Another sector that is suffering is entertainment, where they are being held to stricter rules than bars and restaurants, meaning it just isn’t feasible for them to open with such a limited capacity. This of course is something for the Scottish Government to address and needs to be done so urgently.
For now though, hospitality will recover far quicker than retail over the next couple of years and if retail is to have any future in many parts of the city centre the council really needs to do more than simply come up with a couple of slogans and some bland blurb.