ONE woman’s pearl it would seem is another woman’s grain of sand.
At least that’s the way it appears given the furore surrounding the opening of a clothes shop in Princes Street this weekend.
Not that Primark is any old store. It might not have the cachet of Harvey Nichols but it certainly makes cash go a long way.
The debate, though, is about whether a discount clothing retailer really fits with the “string of pearls” plan cooked up by the council a few years ago in an attempt to get what used to be a great shopping thoroughfare back on its feet.
There are those who believe that Primark’s massive investment in its “flagship” store is just as important to the city as was attracting Harvey Nicks to St Andrew Square a decade ago. It’s a store which attracts shoppers and, given the street’s recent history thanks to tramworks and a host of not very inspiring temporary outlets, it could be the boost every retailer on it needs.
But then there are those who ask whether it’s the right fit for Princes Street. This is, after all, a boulevard which boasts some of the best panoramic views in the world. In the past, it’s also been home to wonderful independent department stores, like Darlings, Forsyths, Binns, massive tea rooms, cinemas and exclusive designer boutiques – even furriers.
Now it has an M&S, Waterstones, Next, Bhs, Debenhams and Topshop – and is just like every other high street in Britain, which to many is a sign that it has lost its allure.
But it’s all too easy to look at Princes Street through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s a street which has ebbed and flowed with changes in the retail trade.
As a youngster I remember it had an enormous John Menzies, a Woolworths, a Salisbury’s bag shop, a Razzle Dazzle, Mansfield Shoes, Etam, C&A and even Rankin’s fruit shop at the west end. Most of these would have been found on any other large town’s high street and some could hardly be described as jewels.
So this idea that Princes Street is a special case, that it should have different stores to those in Oxford Street or Sauchiehall Street is a nonsense. It’s a street which needs to have mass market appeal otherwise it’s on the road to boarded-up ruin.
We’re lucky in Edinburgh that George Street has taken over from Princes Street of “olden times” and has some fantastic stores, cafes and restaurants.
We have Harvey Nichols and the designer names in Multrees Walk which attract shoppers from all over Scotland. And we have other shopping areas in Bruntsfield, Morningside, Blackhall, the Old Town and countless other places that offer independent boutique shopping.
Admittedly, what we no longer have is a decent department store. House of Fraser at the West End was always second rate to Jenners but, since it has taken over as the street’s grand old lady, it has managed to drag it downmarket – have you checked out its tacky Christmas decorations?
Yet the thing that heritage body The Cockburn Association doesn’t like about Jenners is the fact that it was bathed in pink light for Breast Cancer Awareness Month recently. Shame it doesn’t campaign on what it looks like inside.
Princes Street has had a wretched time of it of late. The recession has taken its toll, as have the trams. Earlier this year it was reported that one in every 13 shops in the city centre was empty, including the former Waterstones at the East End and Gap at the West End. Even this week, a property fund manager was claiming that Edinburgh has been left behind as a retail destination because it has not developed Princes Street correctly.
However, the string of pearls idea of opening up the floors above ground level – especially turning them into flats and making the street habitable again – is welcome, even if in these economic times it will be a long time coming.
In the meantime, let’s forget about Princes Street’s so-called glorious past. Things have changed since people dressed in their best to shop in the centre and have tea at Crawford’s.
Let’s welcome Primark. It’s been ridiculous that it’s not been in Edinburgh before. They have one in Dunfermline for goodness sake, and four in Glasgow. After all, experience suggests the arrival of a Primark revitalises the surrounding shopping area and draws in other big names.
Let’s hope that Primark is the first pearl in Princes Street’s string. It certainly needs to start somewhere.
Raise a smile
THE biggest scandal about the failed New Pyjamas fundraising campaign for the Sick Kids is that it failed to help a single child.
Which is why it’s great that this year’s Evening News festive appeal will try to rectify that to some extent.
So when you’re out buying gifts, be it in Princes Street or elsewhere, please try and remember to donate one at one of Lothian Buses’ Travel- shops to put a smile on the face of a hospitalised child.
Or you could always just make a donation to the Sick Kids Friends Foundation, which is raising money for new equipment for the Eye Pavilion. After all, what’s Christmas about if it’s not the giving?