The decline of Union Street in Aberdeen as a destination for shoppers has been well documented.
Numerous big names such as Debenhams, Esslemont & Macintosh, House of Fraser and BHS have disappeared in recent years, and it has been estimated there are now more than 100 vacant shop units in the once-popular shopping location.
But efforts are now being made by Aberdeen City Council to bring these empty sites back into use.
A grant scheme of £500,000 is being set up to support reconfiguring empty shops.
It will lever in match funding, and is part of an action plan to help reinvigorate and reimagine the area.
Development principles include focusing on areas such as hospitality, culture and streetscape.
Union Street emergency summit
There was a boost for Union Street last November, when long-established fashion brand Attic opened the doors of its new premises on the thoroughfare.
The move came in the same week that proposals emerged for a coalition to lure new local and national businesses to a regenerated and revitalised Union Street.
More than 170 business leaders and politicians attended a four-hour emergency summit on the future of Aberdeen’s Granite Mile.
The meeting was called by Aberdeen Inspired and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) to address the need for immediate action.
AGCC policy and marketing director Ryan Crighton said: “There are a few things I think could help us on the way to a brighter future for Union Street. My ask of the council is two-fold.
“One – support the private sector in its efforts to stimulate investment in Union Street.
“Everyone is clear that public finances are stretched like never before. We understand the position that you are in – one which is likely to get even tighter in the years ahead.
“The chamber believes it is the role of local and national government to create the framework and conditions that will act as a catalyst to enable the private sector, investors, companies and entrepreneurs to do their bit.
‘Do what you say you are going to do’
“The second ask is that you do what you say you are going to do. You have a plan, stick to it and see it through.
“We need the local authority to deliver on its masterplan, the transformation of the beachfront and the major interventions on Union Street, including the market.
“City centres are still a viable investment option for financiers – but they need to see there is a plan, and they need to know what they are investing in.
“If it’s more of the same out there, then you can forget it. But if it’s a city centre and beach undergoing massive regeneration, then we are in with a fighting chance.”
Attic had been trading in the Academy shopping centre for 21 years, but the three brothers who own the firm felt the end of last year was a good time to relocate.
The McLaughlins now occupy the shop at 87-89 Union Street.
It follows a similar move for them in Inverurie, where moving from Station Road to West High Street brought a bounce in trade.
Craig McLaughlin said: “We realised we shouldn’t be scared to move in Aberdeen either.
“We remember the good times when the Academy was full and Belmont Street was bustling, but the city centre has declined and good retail areas have shrunk.”
The move to the new unit, only a few doors down from the planned £50 million market development, is cause for optimism.
McLaughlin added: “This is the busiest crossroads in Aberdeen, so we feel it’s a good spot.
“If Union Street does bounce back, we think regeneration will come from this end up.
“The problem for an independent retailer is looking at the city and working out where will regenerate quickest. Union Square is a non-starter for us because the demand from big multinationals is huge.”
Aberdeen city centre too fragmented
Asked what he thought would be key to solving the high-street troubles Aberdeen and many cities face, he said: “Joining everything up.”
“We need to get enough happening within the main areas of Union Street. Then we can link it all better with Union Terrace Gardens and the market.
“And then we should focus on making it less fragmented – that will be the secret to Union Street’s recovery.”
Interested in the Union Street summit? Some of Aberdeen’s top business brains came up with 51 ideas for Union Street, from demolishing shopping centres to ghost tours. and whisky experiences.