Top retailers eye George Street moves

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A CLUTCH of high-profile companies are eyeing moves on to George Street, which is said to have become the Capital's most popular street among retailers.

The former site of furniture and accessories store The Pier has been lying empty since the start of last year, after the firm plunged into administration.

It is understood that upmarket fashion brand Austin Reed is among the big names that are vying to secure the prime site, at 104 George Street.

Top-end women's clothing brand Anthropologie - which opened its first UK store last year with a "boutique" unit on London's Regent Street - is also understood to have set its sights on George Street for its first Scottish store.

Retail experts say that the strong interest in the street confirms its status as the prime retail street in Edinburgh, at a time that Princes Street has seen a significant decline.

A recent study found four empty shop units in Princes Street, while many of the shops were occupied by retailers on short-term leases.

In contrast, George Street had two empty units and most occupiers are signed up to longer-term leases.

James Godfrey, a partner at property firm Culverwell, which is marketing the lease for 104 George Street, said: "There is no doubt that there is now a lot of demand for the big spaces on George Street. Most of these companies are new names for the city, which is great news."

News of the interest comes after the Evening News revealed last week that "urban chic" fashion retailer White Stuff is planning a 1 million refurbishment of the former Grays store on George Street.

Mr Godfrey admitted that there are still difficulties in the city centre's retail sector.

He said: "There's definitely a nervousness about retailers looking at Edinburgh city centre because they know how disastrous the tram work has been and that has stopped people looking at Princes Street in particular. Footfall is down significantly and people just don't want to go into the city centre unless they have to.

"But George Street is a different retail offering. It is more of a destination street and there has not been the same decline in footfall as other parts of the city."

New data from the city council shows that, across the city centre, average footfall was down 3.2 per cent in the three months to the end of July, compared to the same period last year.

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city's economic development leader, denied that the main interest in Edinburgh is on George Street, with little interest in Princes Street.

He said: "There is significant development under way in Princes Street, including Primark and New Look opening flagship stores. George Street tends to attract more bespoke shops and Princes Street the high street brands.

"Recent research by CACI found that, behind Brighton, Edinburgh has more diversity in the retail sector than any other major city in the UK."