Only revaluation windfall can save Princes St stores - Kevin Buckle

People sleeping in doorways is a common sight on Princes StreetPeople sleeping in doorways is a common sight on Princes Street
People sleeping in doorways is a common sight on Princes Street
There has been much in the media in the last couple of weeks about a resurgence in the fortunes of London’s Oxford Street and a lot has been written in particular about HMV reopening there in time for Christmas.

At the same time the demise of the dreaded American Candy Stores is by no means complete but is seen as something that has been successfully dealt with.

Sadly though Princes Street, which is included along with Oxford Street in any list compiled of Europe’s most famous streets, is still on a downward spiral with even the promise of new hotels taking up some of empty buildings not particularly helping as they often claim there will be retail units on the ground level but have no tenants in place to ensure there won’t just be empty units. If anything the east end which benefitted from being closest to the new St James Quarter is now no better than the west end and Jenners in particular has become a target for graffiti and political postering.

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Begging outside the empty shops is now worse than it has ever been and those shops trading are having a problem too. People sleeping in doorways is now a common sight even during the day and outside the old British Home Stores building has been a campsite for many months now, though it has reduced in size to just one tent in the last week.

It is very obvious this year that visitors are not impressed and I’m regularaly asked where is a good place to shop by people clearly not happy with what they have seen in the city centre. Others actually comment about the state of Princes Street and I do always say there are regeneration plans and they have been delayed by the pandemic but I can’t use that excuse forever.

I mention the St James Quarter first and it is surprising how often those asking say they have been there already without buying anything. I do regularly hear how good the footfall figures are there but it is maybe telling that I have heard nothing about sales figures. I normally suggest that if they take a walk up Cockburn Street, along the Royal Mile and then down Victoria Street to the Grassmarket they will find some interesting shops on the way. There has been no mention of the shops selling overpriced tat to tourists on Oxford Street which was a secondary factor in ruining the street’s image and I guess they are probably still there.

On one hand in Edinburgh there are many visitors that are surprised at the number of tartan tat shops in the city centre but on the other hand unlike the candy stores that came and went avoiding rates these shops have traded for some time and clearly have customers that make them viable.

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In the end it will be business rates that make or break Princes Street and what is very interesting indeed is that on Oxford Street there has recently been a revaluation and businesses this year are now paying on average 40 per cent less than last year which will be making a huge difference to their overheads. Princes Street businesses can only hope for such a windfall in the near future.