Edinburgh icon Jenners must be reborn, and Princes Street as a whole too – Angus Robertson
The 183-year-old department store is as much of an icon of the capital as the Castle or Scott Monument. Its closure with the loss of 200 jobs received seven full pages of coverage in the Edinburgh Evening News, write-ups in national newspapers and reports on Scottish evening TV bulletins.
The final curtain for Jenners follows the closure of House of Fraser at the West End of Princes Street and the end of Debenhams halfway along the main thoroughfare. In addition, the future of Topshop and Topman is now set to be online and not on Princes Street following the collapse of its owners Arcadia.
All is not bleak for the Jenners site however with its Danish owner Anders Holch Povlsen planning to renovate and re-open the department store “returned to its former glory”, with the addition of a hotel, cafes and a rooftop restaurant.
Meanwhile plans have been floated for the Debenhams site to become a city-centre “hub” with a hotel, shops, restaurants and a rooftop bar open to the public.
Everyone’s thoughts at the present time needs to go out to all of the employees who have lost their jobs at Princes Street businesses.
We have to hope that new high-quality retail and hospitality employment can emerge from development opportunities that will follow the economic shock from coronavirus, changing consumer habits and retail prospects.
There are some signs this is already happening on and around Princes Street with the £150m investment in a Johnnie Walker global flagship visitor experience at the former House of Fraser at the West End.
And Apple has transformed traditional shopping into an experiential opportunity where one can see and try products as well as receive advice and training.
Nearby developments have seen quality restaurants like Dishoom, The Ivy and Gaucho open on the south side of St Andrews Square close to Harvey Nichols, and Multrees Walk leading to the new development at St James Quarter.
In recent years there has been considerable retail displacement from Princes Street to George Street and the sense that the days of one of Europe’s most striking main streets have past.
It needn’t be that way. Princes Street has been reinventing itself since it was built in the 1770s. There has been so much change that only one original building remains which is home to the Hector Russell Tartan Gift Shop close to Frederick Street.
Edinburgh has at different times looked at alternative ways to protect and enhance Princes Street including the City Centre Development Partnership, involving the City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh World Heritage, Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothians, and various private landowners and investors. A whole raft of policies, plans and reviews have covered transportation, heritage, conservation, retail, tourism and sustainability.
Princes Street is one of the finest main streets of any world capital, uniquely built on only one side looking towards Edinburgh Castle and lying in the New Town Conservation Area and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
It deserves maximum attention now to reach its full potential after we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. Just as the old Jenners should be restored to its former glory with amenities fit for the 21st century, so should Princes Street as a whole.