We have one last Christmas, so make a Jenners pilgrimage - Stephen Jardine

In the newspaper archives, there is a photograph marking the end of an era. Taken in 1981, it shows a bemused student leaving the RW Forsyth department store on Princes Street as it closed it’s doors for the final time. That scruffy figure was me.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 7:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 7:33 pm

At the time, the shop seemed a bit quiet but I really thought no more about it. Yet as the door shut behind me and the flashlight popped, a chapter closed on the history of Princes Street.

Down the years many big department store names have disappeared from Edinburgh. Darling’s, Binns, Grants and Patrick Thomson’s are all gone and mostly forgotten but one name survived, until now.

The news that Jenners is to quit Princes Street feels like the final nail in the coffin for big retail in Edinburgh City Centre. Founded in 1838, a store that saw two queens, four kings, Crimea and two world wars just couldn’t survive the move to out of town retail and online shopping.

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The Princes Street department store is renowned for its Christmas decorations.

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The departure of Jenners from Princes Street will be a sad moment, heavy with nostalgia for anyone linked to the city but it is also inevitable. The fate of the business was sealed the moment it was sold to House of Fraser and especially when Sports Direct ogre Mike Ashley took over.

In other hands it might have shaped a fresh future as a modern lifestyle store like Liberty on Regent Street in London.

But the combination of a labyrinthian layout and an owner who just wants to flog cheap cotton sports socks meant the business was on life support.

Seasoned observers watched the closure of the basement toy department last week and realised the writing was on the wall. Generations of Edinburgh adults will remember being taken there to see Santa as children and to marvel at the shelves groaning with toys that were out of reach in every sense.

Any shop shutting down it’s toy department with just four weeks until Christmas really was giving up the ghost.

If the grand old lady of Edinburgh shopping didn’t love herself, then why should any of the rest of us care about her ?

I suspect Jenners will now evolve into a smaller business selling cashmere scarves and tartan ties to rich visitors in a shiny new store with only monochrome photos on the walls commemorating what the name once represented.

Down on Princes Street, after yet another vast construction project, something new will emerge on the famous old site.

That is not a bad thing. As retail moves online, Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare couldn’t survive as a shopping street. Instead it’s future will be hospitality with hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars taking advantage of the breathtaking views to the castle.

But before that, we have one last Christmas. So make a pilgrimage to see the big old tree, buy some overpriced mince pies and wander aimlessly in search of a gift for that uncle you don’t really like. You’ll miss that experience once it’s gone.