Jenners: Thank You and Farewell to the Grand Old Lady of Princes Street - Donald Anderson
Families will all have their own memories of going there and of those special purchases, especially at Christmas time. My own family has many memories. My Dad’s Auntie used to work there as a seamstress in the 1930s and apparently lived in rooftop accommodation. My Mum worked there for many years in both the café and locked (literally) down in the cash room where she had a great time working under a lovely woman called Lena. Mum formed great friendships there and there were stories about how lovely ‘the family’ – the Douglas-Millers, were to work for.
As a child I loved visits to see Mum at work and Jenners always seemed to be the poshest place I ever visited. At Christmas time it’s no exaggeration to say that Jenners was a magical place to a small child. Generations of Edinburgh youngsters will have had some of their most treasured memories being taken into Jenners for that special Christmas visit.
Online retail has no doubt taken its toll on Jenners as with so many department stores and shopping brands, but the Covid crisis has arrived like a huge straw that’s finally and suddenly broken the camel’s back.
Soon the memories will be all that remains of a brand that was synonymous with quality and one that was so typically ‘Edinburgh’. The closure brings to an end a proud history of service and will leave a yawning gap in our most iconic of streets. Jenners is already being considered for regeneration, with a team working to create a new vision and future for one of Edinburgh’s most iconic buildings. We have to wish them luck. With vacancy rates running at 15 per cent on Princes Street and 25 per cent on George Street, the centre of Edinburgh faces a huge challenge to retain its vibrancy and as somewhere that can attract residents and visitors back once the Covid crisis is over.
Edinburgh’s city centre has faced challenges before. In the mid 90s the city area was losing nearly a fifth of retail spend to Glasgow. The arrival of Harvey Nichols and Multrees Walk quickly brought about a transformation and that figure quickly dropped down to just 3 per cent, and new life was breathed into the heart of the city.
The challenge now is, if anything, even more formidable. People will continue shopping, of that we should be in no doubt. But shopping is changing more rapidly than ever. People are buying convenience items, they’re also making impulse buys in city centre stores but for clothes and many other traditional retail staples they’re as often checking in store before buying online. The most successful of shops have developed high volumes on online sales, with John Lewis as a great example of such a transition. At the other end of the spectrum, brands like Top Shop seemed to spurn technology and rely on the physical store presence with inevitable results. In the middle was Jenners, but that hasn’t been enough to save Edinburgh’s ‘grand old lady’ from closure.
High Streets of the future will need to be flexible and only an increase in leisure use, as is being brilliantly achieved by the Johnnie Walker Visitor Centre at the east end, will fill them back up. Thoughts have to be with the 200 staff who will lose their jobs. Under normal circumstances those staff would be snapped up in a jobs market that made Edinburgh one of the easiest places in Britain to find a job. That’s by no means certain these days, despite the fact that Edinburgh’s economy has been hit less hard than elsewhere.
My last trip to Jenners was just before Christmas to buy gift vouchers as a Christmas present. I wandered as I had so many times though the faded beauty of what must be one of the finest buildings Edinburgh has. The café, where I’d had many great lunches and coffee meetings, was closed and looked sad. There were far fewer shoppers than I could ever remember at Christmastime. I knew Jenners as we’d all known it was coming to an end, but I hadn’t appreciated just how quickly that end would come.
Soon there will just be memories, but such great memories. A magnificent store, which was one of the finest family businesses ever created in Scotland and nurtured by a family and Edinburgh resident who obviously loved it. As the doors close on Jenners, we have to hope that reinvention comes quickly and that the building, if not the Jenners brand, again takes a special place at the heart of Edinburgh life and at the heart of our city centre. Jenners may soon be gone, but its memory will forever be cherished.