Scottish Daily Mail

A sale of two cities... Black Fri­day blues for glum Glas­gow, while Ed­in­burgh reaps the re­wards

That’s the chilling ver­dict of busi­ness owner Bill Gib­son. But with the city empty of Xmas shop­pers and of­fice work­ers, many share his bleak prog­no­sis

- By John Paul Bres­lin Shopping · Glasgow · Edinburgh · Scotland · United States of America · United Kingdom · Dundee · Aberdeenshire · Inverness · Mike Tyson · Denmark · Black Friday & Cyber Monday · National Records of Scotland · Huey Lewis & the News · Coatbridge

THE con­trast be­tween them could not be more stark.

While the streets of Scot­land’s cap­i­tal were packed with bar­gain-hunters look­ing to make the most of Black Fri­day deals, the shopping precincts of the coun­try’s big­gest city stood empty.

The forced clo­sure of all non- es­sen­tial shops in 11 Scot­tish coun­cil ar­eas meant busi­ness own­ers who could not move their sales online could only look on as re­tail­ers else­where brought in much-needed funds on one of the year’s big­gest shopping days.

Last year, Scots spent £97mil­lion online on Black Fri­day, with an­other £127mil­lion splashed out on Cy­ber Mon­day.

Shop­pers were out in force on Princes Street, Ed­in­burgh, which is un­der Level 3 re­stric­tions. Apart from most peo­ple wearing face cov­er­ings, it could have been a scene from any re­cent year.

How­ever, images of shopping precincts in ar­eas un­der tougher Level 4 mea­sures could not have been more dif­fer­ent.

Brae­head Shopping Cen­tre on the edge of Glas­gow was all but de­serted, as was the city’s Buchanan Street. It is ex­pected the clo­sure of shops in swathes of the coun­try

will push more trade online, where it is thought Scots will spend up to £164mil­lion snap­ping up bar­gains this year.

Non- es­sen­tial shops in Level 4 ar­eas closed eight days ago with an es­ti­mated £15mil­lion lost in the first full day alone.

Shops in th­ese ar­eas will not be able to wel­come cus­tomers back i nside un­til De­cem­ber 12. The re­tail sec­tor an­tic­i­pates lost sales of £270mil­lion, on top of £2.5bil­lion al­ready lost dur­ing the pandemic. Many shops are ex­pected to ex­tend their trad­ing hours when they re­open in an ef­fort to make up for lost foot­fall.

Orig­i­nat­ing in the US when sales start the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing cel­e­bra­tions, Black Fri­day has taken hold in the UK.

Scot­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium di­rec­tor David Lons­dale said: ‘For many cus­tomers, dig­i­tal shopping will be the main op­tion for those look­ing to get their pre-Christ­mas pur­chases un­til shops re-open on De­cem­ber 12. As such, this could be the big­gest Black Fri­day yet, af­ter what has been a mis­er­able pe­riod for the re­tail in­dus­try in Scot­land.

‘We es­ti­mate non-food shops will miss out on £270mil­lion in lost rev­enues over the three weeks of local lock­downs, a ham­mer blow dur­ing what would nor­mally be the key fes­tive trad­ing pe­riod.’ Stu­art Mackinnon, ex­ter­nal af­fairs man­ager of the Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­nesses in Scot­land, said: ‘The fact so many local busi­nesses par­tic­i­pated in Black Fri­day de­spite the lock­down is a mark of how ef­fec­tively some have ad­justed to the pandemic by mov­ing their prod­ucts and ser­vices online. How­ever, plenty of other small busi­nesses re­main en­tirely de­pen­dent on in-store trade.’

LOCK­DOWN in Scot­land’s largest city and Glas­gow’s usu­ally bustling cen­tre slum­bers in its in­duced coma. Busi­nesses that used to feast hun­grily on any pass­ing foot­fall are once more in sta­sis, their win­dows dimmed, lit­tle sign of life within.

Or­di­nar­ily, the run-up to Christ­mas would be one mad, jostling scene of chaotic con­sumerism, with Buchanan Street’s pedes­trian precinct a sea of bob­bing heads. That was be­fore the pandemic took hold. This year, a deathly hush has de­scended. Strolling around in the hours be­fore Level 4 re­stric­tions brought the shut­ters down on all non-es­sen­tial shops and ser­vices last Fri­day, Glas­gow looked a pale shadow of its usual gal­lus blus­ter.

Cus­tomers were in thin sup­ply long be­fore the 6pm cur­few (not helped by per­sis­tent rain); harsh strip-light­ing in un­oc­cu­pied of­fice blocks and empty train car­riages bear­ing wit­ness to the im­pact of ‘work from home’ edicts.

The rav­ages of coro­n­avirus have cut deeply into the fab­ric of the na­tion, the pain no more keenly felt – it should not be for­got­ten – than by those who have lost loved ones. The death toll – now hov­er­ing around 5,400 ac­cord­ing to lat­est data f r om the Na­tional Records of Scot­land– re­minds us that Covid-19 is no re­specter of se­nior­ity or rep­u­ta­tion.

Busi­nesses of all sizes and ages find they are treated with sim­i­lar dis­dain. But the small in­de­pen­dents, the hair­dresser’s and bar­ber’s, gift shops and cof­fee bars, which form the lifeblood of Glas­gow’s di­verse re­tail of­fer­ing, are suf­fer­ing des­per­ately.

While they lan­guish un­der the most dra­co­nian level of re­stric­tions un­til at least De­cem­ber 11 – j ust 13 shopping days be­fore Christ­mas – small busi­nesses in the coun­try’s other ma­jor cities – Ed­in­burgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and In­ver­ness – can re­main open.

‘In the first lock­down, we were shut for three months. But Glas­gow has never re­ally re­cov­ered since March,’ said Bill Gib­son, owner of Ad­ven­ture 1, an old­school mil­i­tary sur­plus and out­door equip­ment store, at 38 Dun­das Street. Now 72, Mr Gib­son opened the shop, just up from Glas­gow Queen Street Sta­tion, when he was 40. The pas­sage of time of­fers per­spec­tive.

‘It is a very de­press­ing sit­u­a­tion, to be hon­est. I’ve put my life’s work into this place and to see it fall down now… I’m not ready to re­tire,’ he said. ‘I don’t have a wife or fam­ily, but my staff have com­mit­ments; they have mort­gages and they are all wor­ried.’

De­spite re­ceiv­ing a £10,000 Gov­ern­ment grant and a rent cut of 50 per cent for three months from his land­lords, Mr Gib­son still had to pay off one of his five staff: ‘It’s not nice, but I also had to con­sider the other em­ploy­ees.

‘If we hung on and hung on be­fore let­ting any­one go, there might be no busi­ness left.

‘We are breaking even but no more. We take £200-£300 a day – that’s turnover, mind, not profit – and out of that I have to find the wages to pay four staff and meet my over­heads.’

He added: ‘The city is so quiet. I travel in from Coat­bridge by train and I talk to the train driv­ers who say there are barely a dozen peo­ple com­ing in off their trains, which are nor­mally packed.

‘The worry with lock­down is that ev­ery time it hap­pens, fewer and fewer peo­ple come back to the city and back to the shops. In lock­down, they found they could buy any­thing online or in a shop nearer home, so why bother com­ing into the city at all now?

‘Glas­gow is fin­ished. It is never go­ing to re­cover.’

It is a sober­ing con­clu­sion, but one hard to ar­gue. Be­fore Covid, 170,000 jobs were based in the city cen­tre. One block is adorned with the city slo­gan: ‘Peo­ple Make Glas­gow.’

This week, the Scot­tish Daily Mail pub­lished pic­tures of rows of de­serted desks in the nearby fi­nan­cial district, as it emerged that more than a quar­ter of Scot­tish firms are cut­ting of­fice space in re­sponse to the vast num­bers work­ing from home.

At the same time, fig­ures from the Scot­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium show that Scot­tish stores lost £2.4bil­lion of sales over the first seven months of the pandemic. High street foot­fall, mean­while, is down 40 per cent.

MEDICS of­ten talk about the ‘golden hour’ when t hey have t heir best chance of sav­ing a dy­ing pa­tient. Econ­o­mists de­scribe the weeks lead­ing up to the fes­tive pe­riod as the ‘golden quar­ter’ – the busiest time of the year which can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death for small traders. We are now well into that pe­riod and time is run­ning out.

Next door to Ad­ven­ture 1 is Most Valu­able Bar­bers at 40 Dun­das Street. Owner Os­car Yas­sar has just sat down to a late lunch.

With eight cus­tomers booked be­fore lock­down – an ex­cep­tion­ally busy day by re­cent stan­dards

– Mr Yas­sar has pushed the boat out: ‘Nor­mally I can­not af­ford any­thing more than a sand­wich. To­day I eat pizza!’ he said, only half-mock­ingly. There seems lit­tle else to cheer. Debts are mount­ing and trade has dropped off a cliff. ‘I took this place over about a year be­fore l ock­down and worked re­ally hard to build it up; seven days a week. Then I feel like Mike Tyson has hit me in the face.

‘Now, I’m not even mak­ing 20 per cent of what I was. The first lock­down, I was scared for the fu­ture. But now, I’m not even scared be­cause I know I have no fu­ture. I will have to close for good. I have bills for this quar­ter of more than £11,000. How can I pay that? I have £103 in the bank right now.’

Mr Yas­sar, who will mark his 46th birth­day dur­ing lock­down, added: ‘Through­out my life, I have al­ways been pos­i­tive. Even now, I know I am bet­ter off than oth­ers. I have lost all my sav­ings, but I still have my health.

‘I have a wife and two kids in Den­mark. I think in the New Year I will leave and join them.’

Sandy McLean, 59, has run his record shop, Love Mu­sic, at 34 Dun­das Street since it opened in 1997 sell­ing vinyl and CDs. ‘We have fared bet­ter than some dur­ing lock­down as we are a spe­cial­ist store and we do a lot of busi­ness via the in­ter­net,’ he said.

‘Even in lock­down, I could come in, pack­age up or­ders and take them to the post of­fice. But as a bricks and mor­tar re­tailer, what we have badly missed is what I call “Fifty Pound Man”, who would browse over lunchtime and buy a few discs. That has hit us hard.’

Like his near neighbours, he ben­e­fited from a 50 per cent rent re­bate for three months ear­lier in

the year and record com­pa­nies have given him ex­tra time to pay for stock, but he added: ‘The elec­tric­ity com­pany still charged me full whack. It is still ex­pen­sive to rent premises in the city cen­tre.’

Still, he is among the lucky ones. Re­search by the Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­nesses Scot­land (FSB) found that only one- quar­ter of mem­bers had man­aged to ne­go­ti­ate any dis­count or de­ferred pay­ment on their rent, while the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity were asked to pay the full amount on time.

Crit­i­cally, small traders in Glas­gow had to re­main shut yes­ter­day while the UK splurged an es­ti­mated £164mil­lion in 24 hours on the big­gest shopping day of the year so far. For many, Black Fri­day will have taken on an en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­no­ta­tion. Some places that could have stayed open opted to close too. Lab­o­ra­to­rio Espresso has been serv­ing cof­fees at 93 West Nile Street since 2013, and could have op­er­ated on a take­away ba­sis but won’t re­open un­til De­cem­ber 12. Co- owner Scot McGarry said the city cen­tre was sim­ply ‘too quiet to be prof­itable’. He added: ‘Un­less peo­ple have a pur­pose to come into the city cen­tre, they won’t and Glas­gow isn’t yet on the scale of places like Manch­ester in terms of res­i­den­tial pop­u­la­tion in the city cen­tre to sup­port busi­ness with­out that large num­ber of peo­ple com­ing in to work, study, and so­cialise.’ Mr McGarry re­called how Glas­gow ‘was buzzing’ af­ter host­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games in 2014, but Covid threat­ens to undo all that good work. The next op­por­tu­nity to show­case the best of Glas­gow is in less than a year’s time, when the city hosts the UN’s ma­jor cli­mate con­fer­ence, COP 26.

WORLD lead­ers are ex­pected to at­tend the sum­mit and the spin- off busi­ness could be huge. But, one won­ders, how many of the city cen­tre’s cur­rent re­tail­ers will sur­vive to put them­selves in the global shop win­dow?

At 21 Bath Street, near its junc­tion with West Nile Street, stone steps lead down into the wel­com­ing glow of Maia Gifts. This base­ment em­po­rium of quirky kitsch and hand-crafted trin­kets is owned by Samantha Rose and Soni

Ahmed, part­ners in busi­ness and in life.

‘It has been a bat­tle for us,’ said Mr Ahmed, 45. ‘We are 80 per cent de­pen­dent on of­fice work­ers who would drop in at lunchtime for a browse. This kind of shop is made for brows­ing but, be­cause of Covid, peo­ple just don’t browse any more; they are too scared. We had all the so­cial dis­tanc­ing marked out, but we’ve never needed it. The shop is never busy enough.’

Miss Rose added: ‘I know they have to try to con­trol the out­break, but the timing could not be worse. Th­ese five weeks lead­ing up to Christ­mas are ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal for us. We have a website too, but you are com­pet­ing against gi­ants l i ke Ama­zon and we have no bud­get for ad­ver­tis­ing.’

The cou­ple, who met while back­pack­ing around In­dia, set up the shop 12 years ago: ‘It was just be­fore the worst of the fi­nan­cial crash, so not great timing!’ said Miss Rose, 41, who trained as an ac­coun­tant. ‘But it was our dream to run a shop like this sup­port­ing local crafts and ar­ti­san man­u­fac­tur­ers, so we stuck at it. We have never known good times, but this has been by far the tough­est year.’

Mr Ahmed added: ‘It’s frus­trat­ing be­cause we don’t feel small busi­nesses like ours are get­ting the sup­port we need. At the mo­ment, we are breaking even and no more. We still have city cen­tre over­heads, although our land­lord has been sym­pa­thetic.

‘But we have in­vested ev­ery­thing we have in this and just feel pow­er­less. We have to hope we can open again in the run-up to Christ­mas. That will give us a boost to see us through. But it is very wor­ry­ing.’

This cri­sis is so acute that Glas­gow City Coun­cil and Glas­gow Cham­ber of Com­merce have set up a joint city cen­tre task force to chart a route out of the darkness. It re­cently held its first meet­ing and co- chair, Coun­cil­lor Angus Mil­lar, whose ward cov­ers the city cen­tre, de­scribed the im­pact of Covid on its re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tors as ‘dis­tress­ing’, point­ing out: ‘ The suc­cess of our city cen­tre af­fects not just Glas­gow but all of Scot­land.’

THE task force’s first pri­or­ity will doubt­less be to help fun­nel as much as pos­si­ble of the ex­tra £2.4bil­lion block grant al­lo­cated to Scot­land in the Chan­cel­lor’s spend­ing re­view into Glas­gow’s cof­fers.

Longer term, he said, the city cen­tre needed ‘a vi­sion and an ac­tion plan’ to tackle un­der­ly­ing struc­tural prob­lems. For the re­al­ity is that an ex­o­dus of busi­ness had be­gun be­fore Covid’s icy grip.

Stu­art Mackinnon, the FSB’s ex­ter­nal af­fairs man­ager, agrees. ‘Our high streets faced sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems be­fore the coro­n­avirus, so we need to have a con­certed push to make th­ese places ap­peal­ing to a wide va­ri­ety of op­er­a­tors,’ he said.

With vac­cines of­fer­ing hope of a re­turn to nor­mal­ity some­time next year, it was vi­tal that ev­ery­one, land­lords, util­i­ties and big busi­ness and gov­ern­ments pulled to­gether to en­sure as many traders sur­vive the next few months.

He added: ‘We re­ally need to make the city cen­tre as di­verse as pos­si­ble to give peo­ple more rea­son to visit once this cri­sis is over.’

If Covid has made one thing painfully clear, it is that with­out a thriv­ing busi­ness com­mu­nity, there is sim­ply no point in peo­ple com­ing into the city. And with­out peo­ple, as the civic slo­gan re­minds us, there can be no Glas­gow.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? De­serted: The nor­mally packed Brae­head Shopping Cen­tre stands silent
De­serted: The nor­mally packed Brae­head Shopping Cen­tre stands silent
 ??  ?? Empty: There were hardly any peo­ple on Glas­gow’s Buchanan St yes­ter­day
Empty: There were hardly any peo­ple on Glas­gow’s Buchanan St yes­ter­day
 ??  ?? Bustling: Bar­gain hunters were out in force in Princes Street, Ed­in­burgh, yes­ter­day
Bustling: Bar­gain hunters were out in force in Princes Street, Ed­in­burgh, yes­ter­day
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Miss­ing foot­fall: Sandy McLean says online sales have helped his store sur­vive
Miss­ing foot­fall: Sandy McLean says online sales have helped his store sur­vive
 ??  ?? Bleak out­look: Bill Gib­son has al­ready had to let one of his staff go
Bleak out­look: Bill Gib­son has al­ready had to let one of his staff go
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Mount­ing debts: Os­car Yas­sar fears that he will have to close his bar­ber’s shop
Mount­ing debts: Os­car Yas­sar fears that he will have to close his bar­ber’s shop
 ??  ?? Tough: Samantha Rose and Soni Ahmed hope they can open their shop, top, be­fore Christ­mas
Tough: Samantha Rose and Soni Ahmed hope they can open their shop, top, be­fore Christ­mas
 ??  ?? Empty: Glas­gow’s Buchanan Street just be­fore lat­est lock­down
Empty: Glas­gow’s Buchanan Street just be­fore lat­est lock­down

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