Against the apparently stable economic growth Scotland is currently experiencing, the retail sector continues to be volatile. Two major, long term trends are evident: market concentration into the largest centres; and constant growth in online spending. Edinburgh benefits greatly from being a top tier destination and from its influx of visitors, workers and students, supporting both the retail and leisure sectors, but it is not immune to national closures nor the rise of internet shopping.
Local Data Company reports that Edinburgh saw a net loss of 13 multiple retailers between January and July 2018.
High profile rationalisation includes House of Fraser, where the Princes Street flagship store has closed, and Debenhams’ store rationalisation programme recently announced. In addition, HMV went into administration over the Christmas period.
More positively, operators expanding include TJ Hughes, café operators (Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Tim Hortons), Lloyds Pharmacy, Greggs, Betfred, Aldi, Co-op, Poundland and Vaporized.
Construction of TH Real Estate’s Edinburgh St James is ongoing and is planned to open in 2020. This once-in-a-generation project aims to elevate Edinburgh from 13th to 8th position in UK rankings. Pre-lets have been agreed for a 73-room aparthotel by Roomzzz, 214-bedroom W Hotel, 5-screen boutique Everyman Cinema and a flagship Next store. The John Lewis store continues to trade through the redevelopment of the rest of the centre. TH Real Estate also own the neighbouring Omni Centre and plan an additional 650 sq.m. of retail space.
The re-development of the former BHS store on Princes Street is also underway. The £20 million mixed-use scheme includes a 137-bedroom Premier Inn, 3,720 sq.m. flagship retail store on Princes Street and two new restaurants on Rose Street. Completion is planned for spring 2020.
Although there were some high profile leisure sector failures in the UK during 2018, restaurants and cafes remain active in Edinburgh city centre.
On St Andrew Square, in Chris Stewart’s The Registers development Hawksmoor opened a 170-seat steak restaurant, while Chinese restaurant chain Tattu and pizza chain Franco Manca are due to open. In an adjacent former RBS property, Ennismore, owner of Gleneagles, plans a 33-bedroom luxury hotel along with bars and a restaurant. A new 72-bedroom Malmaison Hotel du Vin Group is also coming to the Square. The new IMPACT centre concert hall is planned for a site adjoining St Andrew Square and is supported by Edinburgh City Region Deal funding.
As Edinburgh St James progresses and St Andrew Square attracts investment, the anticipated shift of Edinburgh city centre’s retail core eastwards is clearly underway. At the former House of Fraser store, Diageo proposes a flagship visitor centre in the building, dedicated to Johnnie Walker whisky. This may signal the diversification of the West End, as the retail centre of gravity moves east. City of Edinburgh Council’s City Centre Transformation Project will provide a crucial framework for how the city centre functions and performs as it continues to evolve in a growing city.