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Another Union Street closure: Hair and beauty salon The Collective abandons Granite Mile after huge rates bill

Julie Hulcup And Courtney Forbes are having to shut the Collective hair and beauty salon on Union Street. Picture by Kami Thomson
Julie Hulcup And Courtney Forbes are having to shut the Collective hair and beauty salon on Union Street. Picture by Kami Thomson

An Aberdeen businesswoman is warning of more city centre closures to come as she shuts her Union Street hair and beauty salon.

Julie Hulcup has battled to keep The Collective afloat since the pandemic crippled trade.

But after overcoming obstacle after obstacle, her recent business rates bill proved to be the final straw and it will close on Saturday, April 30.

Faced with a monthly tax of £1,900 on the Granite Mile premises, she has thrown in the towel – relocating to her smaller Collective on the Corner on Diamond Street.

Julie told us how the award-winning luxury salon suffered a death by a thousand cuts over the last two years.

The Collective closure is latest blow for Union Street

It comes after the Nail Co salon and Bravissimo lingerie shop closed in recent weeks, creating more unsightly vacant units on the once thriving thoroughfare.

Workers bringing boxes of stock out of Bravissimo this week following the closure announcement.

And Julie fears more Union Street businesses could soon go the same way.

She said: “The number of places closing is unreal, and I think there will be more.

“Other businesses will be feeling the effect of these new rates.”

Julie Hulcup began new business after leaving oil career

The mum-of-four took on the venture with her husband after leaving behind a 20-year career in the oil and gas industry.

Four years ago, with hairdresser Tom Stronach, they transformed the former TSB at 148 Union Street into their new hair and beauty haven.

Julie Hulcup And Courtney Forbes are preparing to give up the Union Street premises they poured so much into. Picture by Kami Thomson

When Mr Stronach left in February 2020, the salon changed its name to The Collective.

Julie explained that they had considered calling it a day at that point, before deciding to plough on…

But within weeks, the country was plunged into lockdown.

How Covid was beginning of the end for The Collective on Union Street

“We had literally just rebranded,” Julie sighed.

“We had set up our launch party and everything… Then I closed the doors on March 21 and didn’t know if we would ever open again.”

However, Julie decided to put the time to good use – redecorating the “tired” salon and installing more hair stations.

Covid grants were secured to keep the venue afloat and employees placed on furlough as the virus kept life at a standstill for months.

The Collective staff pictured here, with Julie at the helm, as they prepared to reopen in the summer of 2020. Picture by Darrell Benns.

And, having been “painted from top to bottom”, in July 2020 the doors were swung open to a flood of customers eager to lose their lockdown locks.

Julie added: “We did come back with a bang.

“Looking at the first month when we were back… If we had that just a couple more times a year, then we would have been laughing.”

Staff shortages at The Collective

More problems soon surfaced, with the salon struggling to attract new staff as an increasing number of hair and beauty professionals opted to work on a self-employed basis.

And after the summertime boom wore off, the business entered a phase of peaks and troughs.

The biggest hit came when restrictions were tightened as 2020 came to an end – with the salon closing its doors for four more months.

The team in April 2021 as they prepared to reopen… again.

‘We are still not back to normal’

By the time customers came back last April, Covid had forced many to make lasting changes to their lifestyles.

After the initial flurry wore off, the struggles became more pronounced.

Julie said: “Clients became used to people coming to their house to cut their hair, and many didn’t want to venture into town even when they could.

Julie and Courtney had thought the Union Street location would help the business prosper. Picture by Kami Thomson

“Cancellations became an issue, with people phoning in to say they had tested positive.

“That had a massive effect, staff would be thinking they had a full day of clients and then three would call in with Covid.

“People will go longer now between getting their hair cut, perhaps they aren’t going into the office or socialising as much as they once were.

“Even now, when it feels like the pandemic is over, we are still not back to normal.”

Why The Collective is leaving Union Street

Things got worse when the Omicron variant caused a wave of cancellations last Christmas, as scores of parties were called off.

“That had a huge impact on our sales,” Julie said.

“We were fully booked and then the phone was ringing off the hook with cancellations.”

Julie Hulcup remains proud of the boho interior she created in The Collective. Picture by Kami Thomson

The final nail in the coffin was the recent business rates bill.

“That was the last thing, I was just thinking ‘how on Earth are we going to get out of this?’

“It felt like we were never getting out of the mess that Covid has caused.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom…

Julie feels that The Collective is lucky in one way, however…

Last November, she opened Collective on the Corner a stone’s throw away in an old hairdressers on Diamond Street.

Julie with beautician daughter Ellie Hulcup outside the Diamond Street building last winter.

She said: “It didn’t take that much work to get it up to scratch, and we will still be able to see all of our regular customers in there – and keep our staff on.

“It’s about still having something for our guys who stuck by us, it’s great we are not just closing the door and saying ‘go and find work elsewhere’.”

What can be done to help battered city centre bounce back?

The Collective’s manager, Courtney Forbes, started hairdressing in Ellon aged 16 – with many of her regulars travelling in for a trim when she moved to Aberdeen.

Those same customers still come to the city to see Courtney, but the trip is less of an outing than it once was…

Bravissimo is just one Union Street shop to announce its demise.

Courtney, who specialises in bridal hair, said: “Honestly, there’s nothing left in Aberdeen.

“All my clients say they only come into town now for the haircut, and then go home.

“They used to go to Debenhams or John Lewis, I just wish there was more to encourage people to come in…

“It’s just sad really, there’s nothing there.”

The announcement comes just days before the local elections, with the regeneration of Aberdeen city centre a key issue facing voters.

Business rates battle

Earlier this year, Conservative MSP Douglas Lumsden warned that “abjectly unfair” rates would hammer north-east firms. 

Aberdeen companies will pay nearly £268.6 million in rates, more than in the capital city Edinburgh.

The levy is still being assessed against 2017 valuations of properties, while the local property market has slumped since the oil and gas turmoil.

But a government spokesman insisted that every penny paid in rates in Aberdeen would end up in council coffers.

And he pointed to the role of the umbrella body for all 32 Scottish councils, Cosla, in deciding who gets what come budget day.

The smaller premises nearby comes with a more manageable business rates cost. Picture by Kami Thomson

Julie, meanwhile, will rename the Diamond Street salon as Revive Aberdeen.

She added: “It’s about our revival, we are still here, and how we will try to make our clients feel.”

But with The Collective as just one recent Union Street closure, it seems like it might take more than a makeover to revive Aberdeen city centre.

‘The city needs a soul’: Shoppers and businesses share their take on the future of Union Street