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‘Blue Toon bucking the trend’: Time to see Peterhead’s name in lights as number of new businesses soar

Business booming in Peterhead post lockdown
Business booming in Peterhead post lockdown

The makeup of Peterhead town centre has changed quite significantly over the years.

Growing up it would have been unheard of if you spent a day “doon the road” without visiting certain institutions like Doddie Donalds, Just Right, Murisons, Homestyle or Woolies.

And as a child would you consider eating anywhere else other than the Jolly Roger or the Wimpy?

Now though, while some of those still remain, the overall retail picture has changed somewhat.

And for a while the picture was bleak.

The closure of Woolworths in 2008 hit the town hard. It was the “hub” of the retail offering and when the shelves were stripped bare of the Pick N Mix and Top 10 singles the footfall to the town centre dried up too.

Woolworths shelves stripped bare as the department store prepares to close in 2008 starting decline in the town.

I think I would be pushed to find someone to disagree with me when I say for some time the future of Marischal Street, Broad Street and Queen Street felt more than uncertain.

‘To let’ signs signalled the “death of the high street” with businesses closing their doors one by one following Woolies’ departure.

Business revival as Peterhead bucks national trend

But the Blue Toon is now undergoing something of a revival.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic 16 businesses have either opened their doors for the first time or expanded in the town.

The opening of big players, and some might say game changers, like Arc Cinema, Brewdog and Brew Toon has more than helped to encourage businesses to see the north-east’s largest town as somewhere worth investing in.

Mark McQueen, partner at Shepherd Chartered Surveyors, says Peterhead’s reputation in the past has not helped it. However, cheaper rents, rates and local entrepreneurial spirit has helped it turn a corner.

“I have found that when we have always tried to do stuff in Peterhead in the past people talked down the town, a bit like Fraserburgh as well in fairness,” he said.

“We were often seen as the deeper darker side of Aberdeenshire, but I think now there has been a change as landlords are prepared to do deals and occupiers are seizing opportunities to start a new business.

“It has been noticed that if priced correctly retail is still relatively in demand. So while everyone is talking about Amazon taking over the world, for certain styles of shopping that is the case, but if you are a bit more of a ‘go to’ destination we have found there is still good demand.”

While many national chains have dominated the town centre for years Mr McQueen said the influx of independent boutiques, cafes, hairdressers and restaurants has been an asset for the town, which is now holding its own in terms of retail offering.

“There has been huge benefits of Brewdog and Arc cinema going into Drummer’s Corner and was the starter to get things going,” he said.

Peterhead town centre bucking the national trend with business booming.

“I think a lot of shops felt the impact of Woolies closing it was such an institution and there is always that period needed for towns to adapt to that.

“But what we are finding is that the demand for big-box retailers is not the same. Nice smaller shops and boutiques, hair salons, that’s where we are seeing the demand.

“You look at the high street in Peterhead and there isn’t a huge amount of nationals there. That’s become the opportunity because people felt in the past they couldn’t go into that street because it was too expensive.

“But an attractive high street is no longer about the chain the same, it’s the case of what you’re buying rather than who you are buying from.”

Reputational damage?

Mr McQueen said Peterhead’s reputation in the past had not helped it.

He said people generally considered places like Stonehaven, Inverurie and Banchory to be more “expensive” and as such considered these towns to be the three main shopping locations in Aberdeenshire.

However, he said efforts had been made recently by the likes of Invest in Peterhead, and with the ongoing significant development of the town in general it had changed perceptions. But momentum is key.

He added: “With the redevelopment of Drummers Corner there has been that feel-good factor feeding through to the lettings of other shops when you see units becoming occupied it has the momentum to get things done so there’s a combination of things which have benefitted the town and the key is to keep going with that.”

Another benefit has been buildings being ready to occupy without a large amount of money needing to be spent on them, he said.

Economic growth could be hampered by future restrictions

Travel restrictions may have also helped with people being forced to ‘buy local’ when they were put in place, forcing people onto their local streets rather than sending them out into other towns or cities.

Ryan Crighton, policy director at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, believes what is happening in Peterhead is an encouraging example of how businesses and entrepreneurs can flourish in an affordable environment.

However he said the town must be supported going forward if further challenges arise due to the pandemic.

He said: “Much of this has been driven by a determined local business community and a proactive business improvement district (BID), which deserves real credit for the effort that has gone towards regenerating the town centre.

“Our towns and city centres face enormous challenges in 2022 and an early return to economic growth in the New Year has been placed at risk by further covid restrictions.

“We need to ensure that places like Peterhead are properly supported to ensure that the momentum, which has taken years to build, is not lost.”

Local entrepreneurs helping Peterhead to buck the trend

Leslie Forsyth, manager at Business Improvement District, Rediscover Peterhead, agreed one of the things that’s made the weathering of the pandemic easier in the town, is that many of the new business owners are ‘local entrepreneurs, who understand the market.

He said: “In general it appears that town centres have weathered the pandemic and the lockdowns more successfully than city centres.

“I believe that Peterhead has been particularly successful because our investors and entrepreneurs tend to be local, have a good understanding of the market, and see the opportunities.

Broad Street, leading to Maricshal street.

“Local entrepreneurs also seem to be more resilient and committed than national chain stores’ finance departments.  Peterhead has a strong local economy which creates opportunities for more inward investment, local, regional, and national.

“Through Invest in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire Council and Rediscover Peterhead, are looking to make it as straightforward as possible to invest in the town. There are still properties available, and we would be delighted to hear from entrepreneurs and investors.”

Renaissance built on cinema magic helping Peterhead to buck trend

One recently opened business being touted for part of the success in the town’s renaissance is Arc Cinema.

After the closure of the Playhouse Cinema in 1999 the town was left without somewhere for new release movie screenings for decades until Arc opened in October last year.

It was a big day for the town as the £2 million venue, which resulted in the conversion of the old Gala Bingo hall into a five-screen cinema, was opened by Peterhead-born movie director Jon S Baird.

Pictured is film director Jon S Baird at the opening of the The Arc Cinema Peterhead, Marischal Street, Peterhead.

Brian Gilligan director at Melcorpo, which runs the venue said each new success in the bustling fishing town, feeds the next.

“The Arc Cinema works hard to provide much-needed entertainment to the people of Peterhead. Our fantastic team really looks after our customers and as a result we’ve been welcomed with open arms by the community,” he said.

“The people of Peterhead are absolutely brilliant and have really supported us, as they have also supported the other fantastic businesses that have opened recently.

“Our experience should give confidence to others – Peterhead is a great town to be in and as long as you serve the community well the people are really willing to get behind local businesses.

“Each new success feeds the next, and this is powering Peterhead from strength to strength to everybody’s benefit. Long may it continue!”

Our interactive map shows the recent additions to the town centre – 

Councillor Norman Smith, chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s Buchan Area Committee and co-chair of the Peterhead Development Partnership, said the strong business environment was exceptionally encouraging, especially during such a difficult time for the economy both nationally and globally.

“During one of the most challenging economic periods we have ever faced as a result of the Covid pandemic, it is hugely encouraging to see such strong commercial investment in Peterhead,” he said.

“Since March 2020 when the first lockdown began, 16 businesses moved into new premises within the town centre – all local enterprises or small regional chains who chose to either set-up or expand their operations.

‘Renewed energy’ in Peterhead as it bucks the trend

“There is a real renewed energy to develop enterprise and commercial opportunities within Peterhead town centre and that’s tremendous news for the wider area as it helps to showcase economic opportunities across the north-east.”

Peterhead councillor Dianne Beagrie, and vice-chair of the council’s Buchan Area Committee, praised the varied nature of the businesses which now serve the community.

She added: “Not only has the volume of new start-ups been hugely-impressive, it’s the varied nature of business which is great news for residents and visitors to the town.

“On the food and drink front we’ve welcomed the likes of an American-inspired steak grill, an ice-cream shop, takeaway, café and foodsales businesses.

<br />SLettuce Eat Healthy, Queens Street, Peterhead is one of the businesses bucking the trend.<br />Picture by Kenny Elrick

“We’ve also seen a diverse range of other retailers opening up including a picture-framers, baby shop, womenswear outlet, opticians, home interior design business and hair and nail salons.

“Together with these new arrivals we have also been delighted to see significant financial investment and expansion by a number of both locally-owned independent retailers and national chains which signals real faith and optimism for the future of our town centre.”