Kevin Buckle: Pop up markets are not really good for business

Roof of Princes Mall and Waverley station
Roof of Princes Mall and Waverley station
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Another Festival, another temporary market, bar, food outlet or indeed ‘Village’.

Last year’s Boxsmall market has been replaced, according to the latest Broughton Spurtle, and the new proposal is a rooftop village – “comprising a public house (the previously consented Malone’s on the Mall), bar areas (champagne, gin and seafood bars etc), a beer garden, live stage areas, hot-food kiosks, associated seating area, toilets and other associated structures including a ‘stretch-tent’ marquee – is up and running even though most of it has yet to be officially consented.”

That Boxsmall has not returned is not a surprise as it was not particularly busy, with only those selling food doing well. And there lies the problem that needs to be faced.

There has been a very noticeable change in visitors’ mindset over the last decade and very few now feel the need to buy some memento of their visit to Edinburgh.

Last month’s sales figures for Edinburgh said it all, with hospitality up considerably and non-food sales down. Hospitality is the word used to cover accommodation, food and drink these days and is a huge part of visitor spending.

Now without a huge rethink of how retail businesses are treated by Edinburgh Council, this is a trend that will in the end make the sight of an independent shop not selling food a rarity. The chains will, of course, survive but even they struggle for business.

The relentless move towards more hotels and coffee and food outlets is simply giving the market what it wants, but that being said, it doesn’t actually need any more pop-up businesses selling food to tourists as Edinburgh has enough already.

So what could be done with what is admittedly a dead space above the Princes Mall? Well, for one thing the council could have a pop-up visitor centre that directed visitors to the many businesses and attractions not directly in the city centre.

Customers in shops will regularly ask for recommendations of other shops and places to visit, but the ongoing frustration in more recent years has been that many do so having not bought anything.

Leith in particular would benefit from being promoted as a place to visit but I’ve always been amazed at how Edinburgh’s visitors seem content to stay and explore in a relatively small area.

Of course, Edinburgh does have a lot to offer within the confines of the city centre, but folk are certainly missing out by going no further.

On the whole, I think people expect Edinburgh to be a little less tacky than they find it and while the Festival has its own vibe it seems to have lost a lot over the years.

More and more small cafes tell me that during the Festival, even being slightly off the beaten track means that footfall is actually quite low unless you are on a route that leads to a hotel. This applies even to those just off The Royal Mile, so for those further afield the struggle is even greater.

I assume the council gets a decent income from the latest temporary village but it really has to think more about the long term and again I don’t think I can put it any better than the Broughton Spurtle.

“If we must further enliven what is already a lively city centre, then fine. But let’s do it with sensitively designed, purpose-built, permanent structures which complement their world-renowned surroundings.”