Recovery is in store for Princes Street as empty units fill up

RETAIL experts in the Capital today said they were seeing the first signs of the recovery of Edinburgh's main shopping street.

A new survey of the city centre by the Evening News shows that there are now only four empty units on Princes Street, compared with seven at the turn of the year.

All of the units that are empty are currently being redeveloped – giving hope that the street could be fully occupied within 18 months.

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Across the city centre, five shops have closed down in the last three months, but five new stores have opened.

There are now fewer empty units on Edinburgh's most prestigious shopping streets than there were at this time last year, when an average of one shop or cafe was closing down every week.

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city's economic development leader, said: "The city council believes that we have to constantly help to attract retailers to Princes Street and other streets in Edinburgh.

"As well as our historic attractions, a lot of people visit Edinburgh to shop and we feel it is very important to have a strong retail offering.

"There is now a masterplan for Princes Street that encourages developers to go in a direction that will improve the retail offering and we will pay close attention to this over the next two years to ensure that plan is carried through."

Across the city centre area studied – between Princes Street and Queen Street – the store closures in the last three months included the upmarket chocolatier Kshocolat, on Multrees Walk, after it fell into administration.

A branch of Beneficial Finance, part of the HSBC group, also closed on Frederick Street, while well-known George Street names Grays and Mappin & Webb also closed.

But a number of stores opened in the city centre, including four on Princes Street: M-Butterfly, Mountain Warehouse and two branches of Clans & Tartans Scotch House.

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The only store to have closed down on Princes Street since the turn of the year was the Gap at the west end of the street, with the fashion chain focusing instead on its other unit at the east end of the thoroughfare.

The three-storey former Gap unit at 131-133 Princes Street is now being redeveloped and is currently on the market.

Letting agent Cushman & Wakefield said it had had "strong interest" in the unit and was confident of securing a big-name fashion brand by the time the work is completed later in the summer.

Isla Monteith, an associate in retail at Cushman & Wakefield, said: "Generally, there has been a slight improvement in retail sales since the turn of the year and fewer retailers have gone into administration.

"Shops that are becoming available in Edinburgh are seeing more interest from retailers looking to come into the city. There has been a definite turnaround in the last few months.

"On Princes Street, there were quite a lot of temporary operators but now, although there are still some, there are fewer of them. It might look like there are still chunks of unused space but with most of that there is work going on. In another year or so it will look a lot better as occupiers take up new space that comes on."