'Serving Edinburgh was a joy and a privilege': Last family to own Jenners reacts to potential departure from historic home
Andrew Douglas-Miller was deputy chairman when the store was sold to House of Fraser in 2005.
One of the last family owners of Jenners has said the transformation of the store’s historic home could give the building a “new lease of life”.
Andrew Douglas-Miller, who was managing director of the department store between 1999 and 2003 and then deputy chairman before its sale to House of Fraser two years later, added serving Edinburgh was a “joy and a privilege”.
The comments come after plans for a restoration of the iconic building including the construction of a hotel, rooftop restaurant and bar from owner Anders Holch Povlsen, who is reported to be worth £4.5bn, were revealed by the Evening News on Tuesday.
Jenners is an 'integral' name
With the store preparing to depart its iconic Princes Street location, Mr Douglas-Miller lamented the loss of the “integral” brand name.
The now self-employed retail consultant warned that restoring the building would cost a large amount of money but added it could have a revitalising effect on the building.
He said: “The Jenners name is an integral part of Edinburgh, it has been around since 1838. Harrods is integral to London and Jenners is integral to Edinburgh.
“The retail environment has changed so much that it looks as if Polvsen is changing with time and if he is prepared to spend that amount of money investing in the building, I think it is a good thing.
“The outside was mainly built in sandstone which weathers so it will need a lot of work on the stones and internally.
“We used to spend a lot of money on the building, keeping it in good spec and whether House of Fraser have been able to do that I don’t know but it requires a lot of maintenance.”
Mr Douglas-Miller added that he hoped the restoration would bring back the atmosphere of the historic grand hall.
He said: “It was emotional to sell the business in 2005 so it has been a while but I think under the ownership of if they are prepared to invest in the building and make it a hotel and it looks as if it will be mixed then that is good.
“If they refurbish the grand hall and they can bring back the atmosphere and all the architecture of the grand hall it will give it a new lease of life.”
Family feel 'vindicated' by 2005 sale
For Mr Douglas-Miller, the potential loss of the Jenners name from Princes Street as a whole after a more than 180 year connection to the shopping centre of Edinburgh was emotional.
However, with retail pressures shifting against large department stores for decades with the internet, the businessman said it is important to look forward.
“Jenners changed dramatically after it was sold and it was sad,” he said.
“One has got to look forward. We had a fantastic innings, we were the oldest independent department store in the world and were on of the leading department stores in Europe at that time and it was a joy and a privilege to serve Edinburgh for so long.
“It is sad when things change but you have to accept that things move on and one can look back and think that we were a credit to the city and hopefully the residents of Edinburgh and further afield were proud to have a department store like us operating in Scotland.”
Despite the potential loss of his former business from Princes Street, the news of its likely departure was not a shock to Mr Douglas-Miller who said the decision showed the family had been “vindicated” for selling in 2005.
At the time, then managing director Robbie Douglas-Miller said the benefits of the deal were “significant” including ensuring the Jenners name continued.
Restoration could 'breathe more life into the street
Andrew Douglas-Miller, then deputy chairman, said the lack of investment on Princes Street had continued to make it a difficult retail environment.
He said: “I think we have been vindicated, you can see all the pressures that have come onto retailing in the city centre and it has been a very challenging environment for those operators that are still there.
“I think Princes Street has changed a lot over the last 50 years. The ownership structure of Princes Street makes it very difficult to do large scale developments because all the buildings are owned by different organisations, mainly pension schemes now.
“The design of the buildings makes it difficult to operate in a modern retail environment because they are quite small and some are listed which means you can only use the ground floor and a lot of space goes to waste.
“A lack of investment in the streetscape of Princes Street as well, there has been very little investment and it faces challenges from other parts of the city from both in town and out of town and the internet on top of that which is causing great difficulty for high street retail businesses.”
Mr Douglas-Miller added that new “purpose built” buildings, referring to the under construction St James Quarter which it is understood Jenners is in ongoing negotiations with for a future site, were beginning to shift the retail gravity in the New Town.
He said: “Princes Street is struggling and it looks as if the retail shift is moving eastward into buildings which are purpose built for modern retail.
“George Street has managed to maintain itself because it is more boutique and so it has managed to carve out a niche for itself. The city centre has access issues for shoppers coming in to the centre, there are a lot of factors.
“You can see that change to mixed use. It looks as if the west end looks like it is heading that way with the redevelopment of House of Fraser and it looks as if Jenners will be moving in the same direction.
“If the anchor stores stay there like Marks and Spencer, there are better uses of the buildings whether it is residential or smaller retail operators or other facilities that city centre residents require.
“It will breathe more life into the street. I think there will always be a tourist slant on Princes Street and you have a fantastic view looking south and any developers that do come forward will want to capitalise on that because it is quite unique.”