With the changing fortunes of its three principle shopping streets, Edinburgh is one of the better places to observe the the ebb and flow of high street retail in the UK.
Traditionally Edinburgh has been a town of two streets – Princes and George. Indeed, the street names of almost the entire centre serve to remind visitors of the hold the Hanovarians had over this country in times bygone. The two principal streets also serve as the city’s main retail axis.
And equally traditionally it was Princes Street that you tended to look to first for excitement, pizzazz and the sense that you are in a Capital city. That, however, was some time ago and now, in spite of the best vista for a shopping street anywhere in the UK (a view of the castle and Princes Street Gardens, for those who haven’t been), it looks a very poor relation to the well-heeled and immaculate George Street, where the whole of Edinburgh’s financial and legal communities shop, if prices are anything to go by.
Perhaps nothing could be more symptomatic of the relative reversal in fortunes of the two streets than Jenners. Jenners is the House of Fraser-owned flagship on Princes Street and its Scottish baronial exterior never fails to impress.
Step inside however and it may have the brands, the point of sale and the aspiration to match its sister store in Glasgow, but it fails to measure up.
It’s a rabbit warren, difficult to find your way around and if you do happen to find what you want, it may well be more by luck than judgment. And besides, much of what’s on offer, and better, can be found in the various emporia that line George Street.
It’s also worth noting that there is a third shopping street, not far from Princes or George Streets: Raeburn Place. This is where charity shop queen Mary Portas has opened one of her “Living and Giving” Save the Children outlets and it looks good, owing to the visual merchandising attention to detail.
There is also the matter of the stock – much of it designer, owing, in large part, to Portas calling in a few favours. The really interesting part however is that this is charity shop central. Almost the entire street is filled with charity shops and all of them are way above the national average in terms of the way in which they’ve been laid out and merchandised.
Three streets then. The mass market Princes Street, the upmarket George Street and the market that is Raeburn Place. This remains one of the better places in which to reflect on the ebb and flow of high street retail in the UK.