SHOPS are to be asked to stay open late every day, all year round, in a bid to boost the city centre.
Business leaders and council chiefs hope to persuade stores in Princes Street and George Street to keep their doors open until 7pm or 8pm to draw more people into the heart of the Capital in the evenings.
They believe an “open all hours” culture would mean residents and tourists alike spending more time in the city centre, going for a meal, seeing a show, or visiting galleries and museums.
The move follows the success of the Alive After Five campaign which saw a major drive – including free parking – to attract people into the city centre during last summer’s Festival and over Christmas.
A survey found as many as 73 per cent of people questioned said late-night opening would make them stay longer in the centre.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which runs the city-centre Business Improvement District, said: “There is a great demand from people for Edinburgh to be more open in the evening.
“We’ve had lots of feedback from tourists that when it comes to 5.30pm, apart from bars and restaurants, there is nothing for them to do. You are even locked out of Princes Street Gardens because it closes at 6pm.
“It’s a cultural change that needs to be made – to thinking of ourselves as a capital city and major tourist centre and what people who come here want us to do. And the same thing with shoppers – when do people want to shop, when are they available to shop? That’s what should drive us.”
City chiefs yesterday launched plans to increase the diversity of outlets in Princes Street and bring a continental-style cafe culture to the city centre. They hope moves to allow up to 25 bars and restaurants will help create a more vibrant feel in the evenings.
Several stores, including Boots, Marks & Spencer and Primark, already stay open late all week. Mr Neal said a “critical mass” of around 60 per cent of shops needed to be involved to make the plans work.
He said: “The ultimate driver for shops is it will make more money. Businesses already opening late tell me a significant part of their overall take is now after 5pm – in some cases it’s as much as 20 per cent of their daily take.
“It’s a matter of how we get everyone to make a leap of faith. As soon as the tills start ringing in the evening, it’s job done.”
Mr Neal is eager for late-night opening to get under way as soon as possible. He added: “I would be disappointed if we did not have shops opening late during this year’s Festival.”
Essential Edinburgh and Marketing Edinburgh are expected to mount a promotional campaign.
Fiona Moriarty, spokeswoman for the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the idea was timely in view of the “challenging” times Edinburgh had experienced with tram works. She said similar schemes elsewhere had seen huge benefits.
She said: “The crucial thing is you need buy-in from as many retailers, cafes and museums. Stores need to know there will be footfall to make it worthwhile.
“Marketing is vitally important so visitors and locals know stores will be open beyond early evening.”
David Birrell, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “It seems there is an appetite for extending the retail hours and potentially also for that to be combined with free parking. If such measures serve to encourage more people to shop and socialise more regularly in the city centre that can only be good for business.”
Free parking ‘not essential’ to attract visitors
Free parking after 5pm was a key feature of the Alive After Five campaign – but it may not be essential to bringing people into the city centre, an evaluation concluded.
A survey found many visitors did not know parking was free. And although 68 per cent of car-owners said free parking would make them visit more often, almost half of those who were not aware of the free parking said they would not have come by car in any case.
The two campaigns – at Christmas and last summer – cost the council £96,000 in lost parking revenue.
But Andy Neal said free parking sent a message of welcome and he hoped it would be part of the Open All Hours culture. He also hopes car parks can be included as well as on-street parking.