The number of empty shops on Union Street in Aberdeen has fallen again, with high hopes that fresh efforts to fill units could result in more “quality” traders.
It continues a trend started in late 2022 for vacancies on the Granite City’s historic thoroughfare.
Richard Noble, managing director at commercial property specialist FG Burnett, counted 41 empty ground floor units on the Granite Mile at the start of this month.
The total is two fewer than six months ago amid efforts to bring Union Street “back to life”.
But it still makes up more than one-fifth (22%) of the ground floor retail space covered by the survey.
Firm tracks numbers and trends
FG Burnett has been tracking the number of units occupied and trading on Union Street for five years.
The firm’s biannual study also looks at any changing trends in use.
Occupiers who have opened on the north side of the street within the past six months include Oodles and Heavenly Desserts, a subdivision of the former Sainsbury’s convenience store.
Another hot food operator, German Doner Kebab, opened in what was previously a Molton Brown fragrance outlet at 118 Union Street.
TAG Heuer Boutique opened on the corner of Belmont Street shortly before Christmas.
Meanwhile, one occupier has ceased trading on the north side.
The Halifax bank closure continues a trend of the UK’s biggest high street banks trimming their property portfolios.
WH Smith, near the top of the street, is due to shut on Saturday, February 17.
The south side of the street has not fared well during the past six months.
Cosmetics retailer Lush relocated to Union Square, a branch of bookmaker Paddy Power closed and a temporary Poundworld store shut its doors.
There are just two new occupiers on the south side – both mobile phone repair shops.
Mr Noble said his latest survey findings reflected an “encouraging” trend.
A positive of all the new entrants is the quality of their fit-outs, an important aspect for the re-energising of Union Street, he said.
He added: “I see these latest results as encouraging.
“Less voids is good news and the quality of the shop fits we have seen from the majority of new entrants is important.
Council scheme ‘a real game changer’
“I hear encouraging, positive feedback from parties looking to secure premises who are engaged with the city council on the Union Street Empty Shops Grant Scheme.
“That initiative has the potential to be a real game changer.”
The scheme offers grants worth up to 50% of project costs towards eligible physical works required for internal reconfiguration of vacant shops on Union Street to encourage reoccupation by new businesses and tenants.
Mr Noble continued: “Seeing upper floors coming back into use is as important as what is happening at ground floor level.
“The recent announcement that Aberdeen Inspired is to commission a feasibility study into unused upper floors is welcome, especially if barriers that stand in the way of development are identified and solutions figured out.
“Our Union Street continue their work and, all in all, there is scope to be encouraged”.
Spectra and other events boost city centre
FG Burnett’s survey took place in advance of the annual Spectra event, Scotland’s Festival of Light, which returns to Aberdeen today and runs until Sunday.
Mr Noble said: “This is a huge crowd-puller focused on the redeveloped Union Terrace Gardens site, together with Marischal College and Aberdeen Art Gallery.
“It is well-established thinking that we must attract a steady stream of events into the city centre all year round to encourage visitors who spend when they come.”
FG Burnett said it is “aware of a number of pipeline openings which will continue the positive trend”.
It is hoped the decrease in Union Street vacancies will continue “despite the inevitable closure here and there”.
M&S closure ‘a concern’
Marks & Spencer’s decision to shut its St Nicholas Street store in mid-2025 and focus all investment in Aberdeen on its Union Square site, is a concern, FG Burnett said.
The firm added: “Such an important site having no plan is not an option.
“Marks & Spencer and the city council need to be fully engaged in making sure a solution is delivered. Developers will need considerable encouragement to get involved.”