Local traders can’t protest Council decisions, we’re too busy trying to survive - Toys Galore owner

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Donald Nairn, owner of Toys Galore on Morningside Road, feels local and national politics are killing his business, which has been trading in Edinburgh for almost 37 years.

In a letter to the Evening News he wrote about the challenges and we approached key groups and readers for their reaction

Donald Nairn of Toys Galore said parking fees and other council decisions are killing Edinburgh traders

Donald Nairn of Toys Galore said parking fees and other council decisions are killing Edinburgh traders

The store is an institution in Morningside and has been in operation since November 1981. I took over the store in 2005 and currently employ nine members of staff. I’m feeling exceptionally frustrated with how politics at a national and local level are killing my business.

READ MORE: Toys Galore owner: Local politics is killing my business

This week the council decided to ban pavement signs by traders like ourselves. I understand the issues surrounding this, but an outright ban was unjustified and over the top.

I recognise and understand why the pavement sign ban has been bought in. My partner is disabled and I’m aware of the difficulties navigating through some parts of town, so I was not against restrictions to their use. I feel it was a shame that that wasn’t explored further before a blanket ban was introduced. I believe the situation could have easily been regulated. Pavement signs provide us independent traders a chance to reach out to our customers and banning them is yet another nail in our coffin.

Donald Nairn - Toys Galore - Morningside

Donald Nairn - Toys Galore - Morningside

We have also had to deal with increasing rates, living wages and heightened competition from the likes of Amazon.

The one thing that I would say has hit our business the hardest is the exorbitant cost of parking in the Morningside area and that is what keeps me awake at night.

I can tell that it’s had a deleterious effect by how quiet the whole of Morningside is at present and how many empty parking bays there are. Worse than that, the customers who do come in are always in a rush now and don’t browse our shop. “God save us from people who mean well” has never felt more apt.

When it came in less than 10 years ago, it was only around 70p an hour. It now stands at around £2.20 an hour, which is more than three times the amount originally, and we can see trade is flattening off. My takings for May are down. There is no silver lining and we cannot go on like this.

READ MORE: Traders face pitch battle to remain on High Street

We are a peripheral shopping destination, which means we pick up customers who don’t need to go to Princes Street and don’t want to spend the time and money getting there. We have a smaller range of shops providing most people’s weekly needs, however, we are very susceptible to competition to out of town retailers up at Straiton or Fort Kinnaird, or even the large supermarkets. What these places have to offer that we can’t match is free parking.

The twin justifications for such heavy charges are reducing car journeys and increasing income to the council’s depleted coffers. I would argue it does neither.

1. Instead of people driving short journeys into Edinburgh’s shopping districts, they are driving far longer distances to the out of town retail parks. You only have to experience the traffic around Fort Kinnaird once to realise this.

2. I’ve noticed that for most of the time, the pay and display bays around Morningside are empty. The only cars using them are ones with permits who live locally. This derives no income for the council at all.

We need cars to be able to access our business for our survival. We don’t sell large items anymore, as our customers can’t walk home with them or carry them onto buses. I think that those who decide to use parking as a cash cow, don’t realise the value local shops bring. Let me remind you;

1. We provide an amenity to local areas. Our customers are grateful we exist, especially when they’ve forgotten a kids birthday and they need something quickly with gift wrap.

2. We’re a social hub. People meet each other there and share news about what’s going on in the community. We are part of this, passing on information we’ve learnt from others.

3. We actually help cut vehicle journeys. It’s better that people make the short journey from say Gilmerton, then having a van deliver from an Amazon warehouse in the Midlands.

4. We help cut crime. We’re the eyes and ears of the community and report issues that others may not be aware of.

Traders in Edinburgh are not going to take to the street to protest. We’re too busy trying to survive. We take real pride in having traded for more than 30 years, but no one is invincible. What you will notice are the nice shops, deli’s and restaurants that you like taking your family and friends to will start disappearing. I wouldn’t have renewed my lease three years ago if I knew the state of play now.

My lease ends in seven years’ time and if things don’t improve, I will move business away from Edinburgh to where I have more control and where the local authority supports business. Other traders will have that choice sooner.

‘The Council should be working towards supporting our small businesses to sustain communities...’

Federation of Small Businesses East of Scotland development manager – Garry Clark.

“Edinburgh’s small businesses provide the colour and character of our city’s retail offering, whether that is in the city centre or in places like Leith, Stockbridge, or Bruntsfield. These businesses need to be cherished and supported and the City of Edinburgh Council has an important role to play here.

“Where the Scottish Government has stepped in with its Small Business Bonus Scheme to ease the cost of doing business for many of our smaller businesses, we are looking for the Council to deliver complementary support at a local level. However, some of its recent decisions seem to run contrary to this goal.

“The Transport and Environment Committee’s recent vote to ban all advertising boards (A-boards) across the city was made with the barest fig leaf of consultation and a lack of understanding of what these boards represent for small businesses. A-boards not only provide businesses with essential advertising, particularly for those without a street frontage, but they also enable them to communicate the character of a business; helping to create the kind of communities that Edinburgh is famous for.

“Similarly, Council moves to ramp up parking charges are making it more difficult for customers to access businesses and this is hitting retailers in particular. Indeed, in parts of the city it is now cheaper to pay the parking fine than to park on the street for the day.

“The Federation of Small Businesses is committed to work with our members and the Council to reach solutions that work for residents, businesses and the wider local economy. Supporting our small businesses will help create jobs and build sustainable communities – exactly the objectives that the Council should be working towards.”

Reader reactions

Marion Woodward said: “Why don’t the council give the first one hour or half hour free? Then if people have to stay longer they can pay the meter after that, or a cheaper fee. It works in towns in New Zealand so people still come in to town. It’s so sad to see our local shopping communities dying like this. The council is very short sighted. Eventually the whole of the shopping streets will be charity shops.”

Stephen Golder said: “I suppose all the people who would be sad to see it go could maybe pay it a visit. We all said the same about pick and mix in Woolworths but when people were asked when they last went the answers was years ago. Maybe time to give back to local businesses if we are going to miss them. Unfortunately this is the way of the world now and ease is everything.”

Carol MacLeod said: “This is such an exciting and very well run toy shop, such a massive variety of choice for children of all ages. I have happy fond memories of buying toys in this shop for my children. The owner has made many valid points here about what the council could do to ensure his shop stays open. Please ECC listen!”

Irene Bell said: “The council are supposed to be encouraging small businesses to remain on our High Streets! But they do exactly the opposite! Business rates and high rents cripple small businesses and leave retail premises empty and rotting.”

Janey Le Lorrain said: “I would really miss this shop if it goes, hopefully not. I’ve been taking my four grandkids in there for years as they just can’t go by without ensuring they get a toy.”

Gina Riva said: “I would love to shop local but the parking restrictions in any parts of Edinburgh where small local business are struggling make it impossible even with my blue badge.”

Marlene Gill said: “While I sympathise with much of your complaints I’m afraid I cannot agree with the point about street furniture. Businesses can hang adverts, they do not have to be on pavements. Same impact with less friction caused to wheelchair users, blind people etc.”

Scottish Government reaction

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local parking charges and the issue of pavement signs are both matters for the local council. We hugely value independent retailers and we support them through our Town Centre Action Plan, while also delivering the most competitive package of rates relief in the UK, including the Small Business Bonus, which benefits 8,200 commercial premises across the city and to date has saved Edinburgh firms almost £140 million.

“It is clear that Brexit continues to be the biggest threat facing the Scottish economy through its impact on consumer confidence and spending power, and it is vital that the UK Government commits to remaining in EU single market and customs union to protect jobs and investment in Scotland. As the bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, has made clear this week Brexit has already hit to the tune of £900 per household on average, and that is before we have even left the EU.”

Council view

Councillor Cammy Day, deputy council leader, said: “We do appreciate Mr Nairn’s concerns and wholeheartedly support local businesses such as his and recognise the value they bring to the character and vibrancy of communities across the city.

“Short stay on-street parking aims to boost the local economy by encouraging the turnover and promoting higher footfall to the city’s many businesses, while also ensuring smoother traffic flow and therefore safer streets. It’s worth stressing too that any income accrued is reinvested straight back into improving the conditions of our roads and transport infrastructure.”

Councillor Derek Howie, equalities champion, said: “The advertising board ban is part of our broader ambition to create accessible, more relaxed streets, encouraging active travel and improving the experience for all shoppers and pedestrians enjoying everything our independent retailers have to offer. This move is about striking a balance between the needs of the public as well as businesses and we will of course be working closely with traders as we introduce restrictions on on-street advertising to investigate alternative solutions and ways in which we can support them. It is important that we continue to ensure that Edinburgh has a thriving business centre.”