Let’s make sure the writing’s not on the wall for retail just yet - Kevin Buckle
I was more than a little surprised that Thursday was my busiest day so far this year in the shop. Radiohead offshoot band The Smile had played the Usher Hall the night before and it was obvious early on several of my customers had travelled to Edinburgh especially for the gig.
However as time went on it was clear that a lot of the sales were coming from families and couples arriving in Edinburgh for a long weekend taking advantage of the Thursday bank holiday.
It is not unusual to have busy spells in the shop when the weather takes a turn for the worse and sends people inside to avoid the rain but by early afternoon it was looking more and more like an old skool busy day.
Even so, it didn’t prepare me for just how busy it was when I left at six o’clock. There are often crowds on Waverley Bridge if a band is playing but everywhere I looked the pavements were full.
Just getting to the Waverley Steps bus stop was an effort and of course that area is a bottleneck at the best of times a problem that should be addressed when the building work on the Waverley Market roof goes ahead and the pavement space is doubled.
However that is not looking like it will happen any time soon and even on a normal day with so many people arriving via the Waverley Steps with their cases people regularly walk in the road, dodging traffic, just to get by those waiting for a bus.
This is basic health and safety and yet in the three years-plus I have been getting the bus after work nothing has changed and the problem easily predates the pandemic. Overcrowding in the city centre is not unique to Edinburgh but we have to hope visitor numbers get back to normal this year and it is a problem now that really needs to be addressed.
There is no doubt that managed properly Edinburgh is big enough to cope with the visitor numbers that will hopefully return but the last council administration didn’t appear interested in such matters, concentrating on active travel in a more local context. I think the hope has to be that the new council administration will adopt a more practical approach.
Chatting to customers the number of empty shops on Princes Street are not considered the eyesore that you might think as the problem is common in every major city and the issues on London’s Oxford Street in particular are well documented.
Sadly though in recent weeks there has been a growing problem with graffiti and that really doesn’t help the image projected. It is a problem that if not dealt with can only get worse as others add to initial tagging and slogans that have appeared.
I do sense more optimism from other nearby businesses as it really does feel like things are getting back to normal at least with visitors if not with those working in the city centre. On the other hand, shops in the Old Town are reporting a far more patchy picture.
Now is the time for the recently elected city centre councillors to visit local businesses and see what practical measures can be taken to help their recovery.
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