The massive holes in the road at the back end of Jenners don’t help of course, nor does the wrapping of scaffolding and plastic around the Assembly Rooms, or the pile of earth cordoned off behind the Dome, or the half dozen “To Let” signs which pepper the shop fronts between Frederick Street and South Charlotte Street, or even a boarded-up window at the Cheltenham & Gloucester building society at the West End.
The two bright spots are the gleaming new Primark entrance and the Santander bank getting a lick of paint.
Which is why, of course, Essential Edinburgh wants to invest about £1 million sprucing up the neglected city centre street. And if Princes Street is supposed to be Edinburgh’s answer to London’s Oxford Street and George Street equates to Regent Street, well that will make Rose Street the Scottish equivalent of Carnaby Street.
That, at least, is the idea. And look closely and there are some hidden gems amid all the hot food takeaways and men in hard hats. Goodstead, for instance, is an independent clothing shop which relocated from Bread Street to Rose Street in the hope that it would mean better business, Creative Cookware opened just 18 months ago and is thriving, jewellers like Robert Anthony, Alistir Wood Tait, Rock Candy and Palenque all appear to be in good health.
Then there are the places which make it more than just a shopping street – Murdo McLean’s hairdressers, and Quickstitch the tailors which has been going for 25 years. And, of course, all the pubs, 15 of them which still makes it the place in Edinburgh for a pub crawl, and the restaurants.
But now Essential Edinburgh hopes to introduce pavement cafes and street entertainment to liven the place up and create a friendly ambience, to encourage businesses to “spill out” on to the pedestrianised pavement, to string up bunting to celebrate sporting occasions, and architects will be asked for advice on how to make the place more appealing.
This is nothing new to Rose Street. It had money lavished on it some years ago, when pedestrianisation took place, wrought iron lampposts were erected, new signs put up and flower bins scattered around the street, but by the mid-1990s, traders were already complaining of neglect, of problems with litter and, unsurprisingly, traffic. The same complaints can be heard today – as well as a new one: the trams.
Carolyn Duncan, manager of Quickstitch, is obviously depressed about the state of the street. “Just look at all the shops which have gone out of business. There are a lot of empty units now, and shops just don’t seem to be able to survive as long as they used to. I’ve worked here 15 years and even in that time the place has just been left, as though it’s forgotten about because it’s not as important as other streets.
“Everybody is struggling, and while that is to do with the recession, it is also the mess of the place and the trams. That’s not just affected Princes Street but the whole city centre. The whole place is a mess.”
A few doors along at Creative Cookware and the message is similar, if a little more hopeful. “All the focus is always on Princes Street and George Street, so it’s great that Rose Street is finally being listened to,” says Lin Cherrington, the owner.
“We wanted to be in Rose Street because of its location, and because we’re not big enough to be on a larger street, but you soon find you get very little help when starting up – you even have to pay privately to get your bins emptied even though you pay business rates. When we opened, Primark was in the process of being built, which meant all the traffic was coming along our pedestrianised area, I really thought someone would be knocked over.
“The bollards which were supposed to prevent that from happening had been knocked down, and although I complained the council just said there was no point in putting them in again as it would happen again. At least Essential Edinburgh has got that sorted and they’ve been reinstated.
“However, more needs to be done to sort out just when traffic can access the street. But Rose Street is great for its mix of shops, most of them small and ones you won’t find in other high streets. At least with Essential Edinburgh’s plans we feel that we’re part of something that’s moving forward.
“Rose Street has been overlooked for years and it’s time to change that.”
According to some of those doing business, part of the problem is that there’s no cohesion to Rose Street as many of the larger retailers, such as M&S or Bhs, spend more time and effort on their Princes Street entrances than those at the back. Similarly, those who sit on the corners, but face on to Frederick Street or Hanover Street don’t feel as though they’re part of Rose Street.
“Which is why the investment Primark has made to its Rose Street entrance has been very welcome,” says one trader, who asked not to be named.
“If the other big retailers took as much interest, that would be half the battle. But the street feels dead where they’re located, as though they’ve turned their backs on it. Instead it’s up to small, independents like us to try and get things moving. ”
Essential Edinburgh, the trade organisation which represents businesses in the city centre and which is providing £300,000 of the money (the amount being matched by the council and the rest coming from Primark as part of its planning permissions), certainly has big plans. Even if this weekend for the Edinburgh v Toulouse Heineken Cup quarter-final, a lot seems to hang on bunting.
Also in the pipeline, though, is street theatre, new works of art, floral displays, new welcome signs, flag and lighting displays and market stalls. The city council has also pledged to enforce a strict traffic ban and to “declutter” the area.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, says: “We want it to be more like Carnaby Street in London, with pavement cafes extended out into the street, live music and more of an effort made to attract people into the street, by brightening up the gable ends of buildings and putting up flags and bunting.
“Rose Street has changed a lot over the years with new restaurants and independent shops opening, but it is still a bit down at heel and feels a bit unloved.
“There are cars and vans in there all the time, damaging street furniture, and clogging up the street. We believe tangible improvements could be made by the summer.”
Certainly by then Jamie Oliver’s second Scottish Italian restaurant is due to be open as part of the new-look Assembly Rooms. It’s an improvement that Nikki Kent, womenswear buyer at Goodstead is looking forward to, as it’s almost directly opposite her store.
“We’ve been here four years, and we really think the plans will be great for Rose Street. We’re next door to Primark, but as far removed from them as possible in terms of what we offer, but the fact that they’re here has been great for the street. And with Jamie Oliver’s restaurant opening, everything feels very positive.”
Owner of the store Graham Blakey adds: “I am relatively happy with the ideas being put forward. There’s a lot of roadworks at the moment, and Primark is now putting money into regeneration which is great given the disruption that was caused by the building works last year.
“I think some of the stores will have issues with any changes to when vans can access the street for deliveries so we’ll have to see how that progresses. And buskers are always a pain as they have amps, are very loud, and just play the one song over again, but it is all a move in the right direction.
“I like the idea that rather than Rose Street being a back street, it will be Hanover Street and Frederick Street and so on which will be our side streets.
“The emphasis will shift, and while I’m not sure Carnaby Street is the best comparison, the quirky feel of Rose Street will hopefully emerge and be celebrated.”
From tradesmen’s entrances to Capital’s Amber Mile
ROSE Street was named after the emblem of England when the New Town was being laid out by James Craig and the streets were named according to the wishes of the Hanoverian King, George III.
Which is why it is decorated with eight different mosaic roses along its length.
Originally Rose Street was used as a service entrance to the grand residential homes on Princes Street and George Street.
Nowadays there are around 40 shops, with the entrances to four department stores, as well as six banks and building societies, two health clubs, eight offices, three hotels and one comedy club. Two of the pubs – the Kenilworth and the Abbotsford – have Sir Walter Scott connections, while a third, Milnes, was historically the drinking den of many Scottish writers, including Hugh McDiarmid.
The number of pubs along its length has made it a magnet for pub crawls, and stag and hen parties – a favourite drinking game is to attempt to have a drink in each bar along the length of Rose Street. During the 1980s it also boasted one of Edinburgh’s biggest gay nightclubs, until the Blue Oyster burned down.