Wake up and smell the coffee on the high street - Kevn Buckle
The ever-reliable SSC Edinburgh flagged up on Twitter this week that a change of use has been sought for Black Sheep Coffee to open in the vacant former Vodafone unit on the corner of Princes Street and South St Andrew Street.
There is no doubt it is a great site and with no disrespect to the Johnnie Walker Experience at the other end of Princes Street most people consider it to be the better being close to the St James Quarter.
It has been empty for some time and having looked at it myself the rent as stated by the agents was not unreasonable. Of course business rates is very much still an issue to be resolved in the long term and a big factor for any business looking to take on a shop in the city centre.
I don’t know much about Black Sheep Coffee but in an internet search they came over as the BrewDog of the coffee world. It is certainly far better being a coffee shop than lying empty but it does not bode well for the long-term future of one of Europe’s most famous streets.
No matter how wonderful a coffee shop is nobody ever visited a city just because it has a great coffee shop and as such it will never be an attraction for visitors just something that feeds off the visitors attracted for other reasons.
Never was this more obvious than in New York where the cool part of town has moved from area to area for decades. The last celebrated area was Williamsburg and Rough Trade even opened there but no sooner was it established than others were talking of moving to Bushwick next door.
New York of course has a different layout to Edinburgh that makes hopping from one area to the next much easier but the reason for moving at all was because as an area became the place to be coffee shops and trendy food places would more in offering higher rents until the businesses that were there originally had to move.
Interestingly for myself the two cool businesses essential to such an area were often quoted as record shops and vintage clothing stores. Though not the only culprit coffee shops were normally blamed for making them leave and once that had happened the place became no more than a place to have lunch.
It isn’t always coffee shops that get the blame. Eight years ago Bleecker Bob’s, a famous record shop in Greenwich Village, was replaced by a frozen yogurt chain. Such was the uproar the new owners even offered a space could be reserved for a smaller record shop within. While frozen yogurt never really took off here coffee shops are as successful as ever and quickly become chains losing even more uniqueness.
The narrative from business experts that don’t own businesses is that shopping on the high street is all but finished when actually one result of the pandemic has been that once forced to buy everything online people really started to miss shops and younger shoppers bored with sitting indoors have discovered browsing shops rather than the internet is far more interesting.
As I’ve said before the high street can make a comeback just like vinyl has but it will need support.
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