IT was on July 24 that the line was drawn. Edinburgh's city centre retailers can be pretty specific about the day they thought the shutters would come down, for that was the day when it became impossible to drive the length of George Street.
By that date all the council's traffic management proposals had been put into practice, rendering the idea of driving into town to shop completely null and void for many consumers. As Michael Apter, managing director of city stationers Paper Tiger says it was like a "drawbridge being raised".
Of course, that's all changed now, thanks to the reversal of the controversial traffic management plan earlier this month and changes to the parking system. Indeed Michael Laing, managing director of Laing the Jewellers in Frederick Street, said the Saturday immediately after the roads were reopened, was his store's best day's trading of the year.
The council has also just launched a campaign promoting Edinburgh's city centre as a major shopping destination this Christmas, but the shops are still reeling from the fall in trade.
So here, 21 of the city's independent retailers reveal what they've got to offer in an attempt to get the people of Edinburgh back to shopping in the city centre . . .
18 Stafford Street.
"We sell womenswear, accessories, shoes and bags, our own label and well known labels such as Sticky Fingers, Nougat, French Connection and Inwear, all under one roof," says owner Sam. "As we are an independent shop, I can go out and take risks with what I buy whereas the big shops often don't offer quirky items - they just go for mainstream."
7 Grassmarket. Owner Jos Bastiansen says: "We're a small business and we deal with small suppliers who make hand-made gifts that aren't available anywhere else because they simply couldn't cope with big orders. So what we have is fairly unique. We're a one-stop gift shop. We sell traditional toys, hand-made gifts, books and children's books, jewellery, hand-made wrapping paper and cards, and stocking fillers."
Laing the Jeweller
29 Frederick Street. "Basically we sell the finest jewellery in the world," says Michael Laing. "We stock luxury brands including Mikimoto Pearls, Chopard, Bvlgari and Mont Blanc Jewellery - all exclusive to Laing's in Edinburgh.
"Personal service is also a passion and we invest time and effort in ensuring that every customer who walks through the door is given all the expert attention they need."
Romanes and Patersons
62 Princes Street. Wendy Knox, assistant general manager says: "We have a wide selection of tartans and we can help people look up their clan heritage, which is something I don't think you get in other shops on Princes Street. As well as made to measure kilts we stock sheepskin coats which are also specially made for us and are not as easy to find elsewhere as they used to be."
32 Victoria Street. "We stock a whole range of wines, spirits, liqueurs, whisky, olive oils and vinegars which we allow customers to try," explains owner Angus Ferguson.
"They can then choose their own bottle and personalise it, and we allow them to come back for a refill without having to buy a bottle again."
Mr Wood's Fossils
5 Cowgate. Manager Matt Dale says: "We are probably the only dedicated fossil shop in the whole of Scotland. Popular gifty items include dinosaur and shark teeth, ammonites, fossil fish and meteorites, some of which are four-and-a-half-billion years old. We also have a crocodile skull and a small reptile for sale."
53 Lothian Road, and 16 Stafford Street. "Paper Tiger goes out of its way to find unique and distinctive products that are totally different what you would find in high street shops.
"We try to offer something different and I think we offer the best range of stationery and greetings cards in Scotland. One of the great ranges we have just now is cartoon drawings of Edinburgh landmarks."
134 Rose Street. Co-partner Phil Mowat says: "Our offering is very unique, with on-the-spot off-the-peg full kilt packs that are affordable and that little bit different.
"We sell evening shirts, quirky shirts, cheaper kilts, Scotland ties and cufflinks - it's all very unique. This winter we're offering a pure wool kilt that we've designed for under 100 and we're the only place that can sell a kilt of that quality that cheaply."
66 Grassmarket. Husband and wife knitwear designer-producer team Bill and Helen Baber opened this specialist clothing boutique in the Grassmarket nearly 30 years ago. Helen says: "What we offer that you can't find anywhere else is our signature, Bill Baber. Everything we sell is handmade on the premises in our workshop, and every garment is a one-off. We work with silks, linens, cottons and wool to create cardigans, jackets, hats, scarves, throws, sleeveless tops, to fit all shapes and sizes."
16 William St. Helen says: "We are utterly unique in terms of what we sell shoe-wise, and we are quite special. We are an independent shoe brand, so we don't sell anyone else's brands and no one else has our styles.
"Most of our shoes are produced in Spain and Italy. In cost, we are very affordable and are pitched under Russell and Bromley in price positioning, so you are looking at anything between 75 to 165 for our winter collection."
The Soap Co
263 Canongate. "We stock 20 classic fragrance soaps and 20 glycerin soaps, and we make these all locally blending palm oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter and essential oils," says manager Nicola Shaw.
"The difference between us and mass manufacturers is that, when we make our soaps we keep the natural film of glycerin that appears during the process whereas many mass manufacturers extract it and sell it on to other beauty companies. This naturally occurring glycerin is moisturising so our products are of a higher quality, and better for the skin."
108b Rose St. Partner David Henderson says: "We specialise in service, selection and attractive prices and our niche market is diamonds and wedding rings. All our staff are well qualified, there is an extensive selection, and you can buy a quality gift from 100 through to 7000. Plus, at Christmas we offer 25 per cent off all diamonds, so we make it that little bit cheaper and you can pick up diamond pendants, earrings, bracelets as well as rings."
52 Thistle Street. "We're very much based on customer service, and as well as getting a cup of tea on arrival, the chance to warm up in front of the open fire, customers get helpful advice, a gift wrapping service and deliveries," says Sarah Davidson. "We offer individual and interesting merchandise not found outside London from designers such as La Perla, Missoni, Christian Lacroix and Ben De Lisi. At this time of year, we keep a list of evening gowns bought so that customers don't end up buying the same gown, or even one in another colour for the same event."
13 Cowgatehead. Owner and milliner Fawns Reid says: "Most of our hats are handmade by either myself or other local designers. We also do fascinators and a range of other accessories including corsages, earmuffs, handbags and flowers to decorate berets if people want to do their own decoration.
"And if they see something in the shop which they like but they want a different colour they can order that. We also sell hats for men in a variety of sizes."
Ian Mellis Cheesemongers
30a Victoria St. "Our ethos all year round is farm produced cheeses we mature ourselves to perfection, and so, for the past two months we've been working to mature special cheeses for Christmas," says Karen Mellis. "All customers can taste the cheeses before they buy, and staff are very knowledgeable which makes shopping for the perfect cheese much easier. Only for Christmas this year we are selling baby cheeses which make great gifts."
18 William Street. Sales assistant Monique Rafferty says: "We sell unusual and unique luxury gifts you won't find anywhere else, as many of them are made especially for Deirdre Nicholls the owner.
"We have lots of local designers who produce beautiful gifts exclusively for the shop and gifts here cost anything from 2 to 500. We offer hand made stationery, leather goods, lovely leather and paper bound books, Prestat chocolates, fine cashmere scarves, shawls and socks, and jewellery."
The Hawick Cashmere Company
71 Grassmarket. "Because of imports from China, cashmere is now sold in Tesco's and everywhere else. But at our shop all the clothing is manufactured at our factory in Hawick in the Borders so you know you are buying a quality product which has been manufactured in Scotland," says Christine Bell, assistant manager. "We tend to sell more individual pieces in different styles to the kind of thing you might find in Jenners, such as big cable knit sweaters and cashmere dressing gowns which I don't think anyone else in Edinburgh is selling at the moment."
94 George Street and 31 Castle Street. Leo Malepeyre, store manager says: "We have a fantastic reputation not only for designer brands but as a showcase for new, fresh cutting-edge fashion. Recently we were crowned the Most Stylish Retailer 2005 at the inaugural Scottish Style Awards, with Vivienne Westwood, Marni and Malene Birger just some of the brands sold exclusively by Cruise which are not available anywhere else in Edinburgh."
4 William Street. "We stock feminine designer clothing and jewellery you won't get anywhere else in Scotland, or on the internet," co-owner Lulu Benson says. "We have a strong emphasis on buying and spend a lot of time scouring Paris for lesser known designers and unusual clothes, including labels such as Isabelle Puissant, Martine Boissy, Anonymous, Ginka and Marion Foale. You would come here for something no-one has seen before because if you're spending a lot of money you don't want to see someone else walking down the street wearing the same outfit."
10-16 Stafford Street. Gift shop owner David Fingland says: "Our business is unique in Edinburgh, there is nobody else selling the mix of products that we stock. We have a reputation for novelty stocking fillers, unusual Christmas confectionery such as animal shaped sweets and traditional toys, puzzles and games which you would not find in Toys R Us. We are also known for our range of candles, which is much broader than the stuff you see in Boots, for example, including novelty candles shaped like wine bottles and wine glasses."
32 St Andrew Square,
General manager Gordon Drummond says: "Shopping at HN is a fabulous day and evening out feel-good shopping experience. It's a one-stop destination - you can get your hair done, have lunch or coffee and of course, shop and get your gifts wrapped.
"We're also very child-friendly and we have a car park too which helps our customers. And although you can get everything you want here, you don't have the same feeling of being trapped like you do in shopping malls. Of course we have exclusive products in every area - 40 different olive oils in the food court for instance - and from here you can walk to a whole host of other fabulous shops."
Grab some seasonal special offers
Jo Malone on George Street is hosting an exclusive pampering event this Thursday. Between 12pm and 2pm, pop into the shop to receive a complimentary glass of champagne; a hand and arm massage using their new Christmas scent, Pine and Eucalyptus; skin care advice from trained stylists; and learn about the newly launched limited edition Christmas gifts.
Bobbi Brown in Jenners is offering, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm tonight, a try-out of the latest winter shades and advice about beauty regimes.
John Lewis this week is offering 40 off all winter coats at its Coast concession, as well as knitwear and selected evening wear, and 20 per cent off all Planet and Precise knitwear and evening wear until December 12.
THE Pure Spa in Ocean Terminal is giving purses as well as skin a boost with reductions on its Winter Spa Experience. Enjoy a full body salt scrub, an Elemis milk bath massage, a facial, a spa foot ritual, refreshments for 60.
The Pre-party Preen package is also reduced by 20 per cent from December 1 to 48, while the Detox Before You Retox package is now 70 instead of 90.
Also in Ocean Terminal, the new Charlie Miller salon and shop is offering complimentary limited edition candles created by perfume designer Roja Dove. Simply purchase a three-step Keratase home care programme (around 30), and get the four candles free.
Get a manicure at Cute Icle Nail Spa, and receive a ten per cent discount voucher to use in the L'Occitane store on Frederick Street. And if you spend over 40 on grooming goodies there, you will receive a 15 flower basket set.
Use out guides to gadgetry
CHRISTMAS shopping is on everyone's mind, but if you are thinking of buying someone a piece of technological wizardry and haven't got a clue where to start, then consumer magazine Which? has stepped in to help.
From today, we will be running a weekly series in the run-up to Christmas of Which? guides to the best in gadgetry - starting with digital cameras.
Digital cameras have revolutionised photography, and no longer cost a fortune. There's an ideal camera for everyone, whether you want a high-end camera with a resolution of 5.1 megapixels (Mp) or more, or a good value model just to produce standard 6x4-inch prints.
High resolution models are usually more expensive, as the number of pixels makes a big difference to image quality. If there's too little resolution, pictures look pixelated or blocky when printed large (A4, say).
High megapixel cameras also tend to have more features, so you can be more creative, with extra control over shutter speed and focusing that a few lower resolution cameras lack.
Megapixels are not the be-all and end-all, though. Lens and sensor quality also play a big role in picture quality.
Which? experts took and analysed 1000s of photos from over 150 cameras. If you don't want to print photos bigger than 7x5-inch, a good cheaper camera with fewer megapixels will still take excellent pictures - you just can't blow them up as large.
Digital cameras store photos on memory cards. These are small, durable and re-usable. Most cameras come with a 16MB or 32MB capacity card, enough for only a handful of high quality photos. A 256MB card, bought separately, will hold about 100 5Mp photos, and cost around 12 to 25 online.
There are many different types of memory card. Most digital cameras only take one type so make sure you get the right one.
Digital cameras eat up batteries very fast. If your camera doesn't come with rechargeable ones, we recommend you buy a charger and rechargeable batteries (about 10 to 15).