Toys Galore owner: Local politics is killing my business
My name is Donald Nairn and I own Toys Galore on Morningside Road. 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.
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 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.
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.
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 7 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.
193 Morningside Road