Kevin Buckle: City needs to make value judgements about stalls

Market trader stalls on the Royal Mile (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Market trader stalls on the Royal Mile (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
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It was no surprise to hear that the High Street was losing even more of its stalls after one of the buildings that had four stalls in front of it changed hands.

The general opinion seemed to be that the stalls didn’t really add anything to the visitors’ experience walking along The Royal Mile and, though I agree to some extent, I do think there is a place for stalls.

My understanding is that originally the pitches were for artists to sell their wares on an ad hoc basis and it is only in more recent times that trading on the street became a full-time business. There were always far more applicants than places and it resulted in multiple applications from the same businesses in different names, meaning one sole trader with one application stood little chance.

The biggest problem is common to so many decisions now and that is that the council don’t want to make any judgements on which businesses are best suited to trading on the Royal Mile. It isn’t hard to choose between a local artist making their own jewellery and a stall packed with silver “designed in Scotland” but made in Asia, but that is not a choice the council currently chooses to make.

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It would make sense to have attractive stalls representing the best local artists have to offer and giving them access to the large footfall of the High Street but making sure there was a continuous change in what was on offer. Maybe then even the locals would be tempted to see what was on show in any particular week.

The only way the city centre will improve its image is if the council both intervenes and makes value judgements. Simply leaving things to the market will deliver takeaways and tat because that is what makes the most money. On the whole most people have no objection to either as such but simply the abundance of these businesses and the lack of diversity overall.

It doesn’t have to be all artists work of course. I’m sure a vintage clothing stall would be popular and, dare I say it, maybe even a stall selling second-hand vinyl. They should be stalls people want to stop and look at without of course causing too much congestion. The crossover between artists and vintage is very strong anyway and I’m sure promoted properly the stalls would become an attraction that were welcomed by visitor and local alike.

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Similar thought has to be given to the Playfair Steps and the stalls there during the summer. The current situation suits nobody as the stalls cannot do business because it is so busy with folk walking by and, on many occasions, the sheer numbers on the steps is a danger.

Again there is plenty of potential to make things more interesting but the council will have to decide what they want and then implement those decisions.

I completely understand nobody these days feels comfortable sitting in judgement of artists and businesses but there are certainly criteria that could be used to make those decisions open and fair.

As for the Grassmarket, the potential there is huge as it has the space and so much could be done, after years of mismanagement, with the right amount of goodwill from all parties that share the area. Currently in limbo while the businesses are asked to consider an Old Town BID as part of a bigger picture, it will take some powers of persuasion to convince those that were involved in the Grassmarket BID that a larger Old Town BID will succeed where the Grassmarket one failed.

Edinburgh deserves a thriving and bustling city centre with lots of attractions and the layout should attract a wider footfall that both solves the current congestion problem and gives visitors and locals a more pleasant shopping experience but currently that isn’t happening. When so much relies on money these days, the changes needed come at very little cost and the benefits could be huge.