Gordon Henderson: Edinburgh’s high streets need support if they are to share in the city’s retail revival

City centre shops are enjoying a mini-revival. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
City centre shops are enjoying a mini-revival. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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This week we saw talk of retail growth in Edinburgh, a “mini revival” according to this paper. Facing growing competition from online retailers, we were told bricks and mortar shops were doomed, so what’s going on?

The answer is two-fold. Our fine city isn’t just a shopping centre. It has great restaurants, cafes and bars. It puts on wonderful festivals and has superb museums and galleries. While online might be convenient, it doesn’t stop people wanting to pick a few things up during a day in the town. Secondly, the city is getting larger and busier, so it makes sense that the shops are bustling! Edinburgh is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK with a population of half a million and a high employment rate. So there’s plenty of people living here, and they can afford to shop. New routes to Edinburgh Airport are bringing more international visitors. Further busy rail routes (such as the Borders Railway) are opening the city to day trippers.

Edinburgh retailer and local FSB member Andrew McRae tells me he’s noticed more visitors from Qatar, Canada, America and China to his Context Interiors gift shops recently. Asked about Edinburgh’s growing number of retailers, Andrew feels that shops selling goods aimed at visitors to the city are doing well right now.

However, as new retailers open up in the city centre, the rents being charged are increasing too. Independents so vital to Edinburgh’s retail mix can’t afford sky-high rents. Our special local shops differentiate the Capital from its competitors. Who really wants to go on a city-break and check out the local supermarkets? Edinburgh’s high streets need support from the city’s marketing efforts, from planners and regulators, as well as from you and me when we go shopping. If the city’s town centres – such as Stockbridge, Morningside, Leith and Corstorphine – are to thrive, we need to allow a mixture of business types to locate there and create steady footfall. If we can get this right and improve our patchy transport links, then we can look forward to healthy Edinburgh high streets for years to come.

Gordon Henderson is senior development manager at the Federation of Small Business