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Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire

Aberdeen city centre: Data shows food and drink outlets now outstrip shops

We've looked at how things have changed on Aberdeen's high streets and have compared this month's statistics to June and November 2023's data.
Emma Morrice
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Things are looking up for Aberdeen’s high street.

Our high streets continue to face challenges, but it’s clear that things may be slowly improving in the Granite City.

The Press and Journal’s high street tracker launched in June 2023, and we go out on foot to track every street each quarter.

This is the third time we’ve carried out a full survey of the city, which has given some positive results for the city centre.

Our latest census shows:

  • Food and drink has overtaken retail as Aberdeen’s most popular type of unit.
  • Vacancy rates fell since the last census in three of our tracked high streets, but increased in two others.
  • Every shopping centre in Aberdeen has seen a decrease in rates since we launched our high street tracker.
  • Mobile phone repair shops are rising in popularity-there are nine on Union Street alone.

The picture today in Aberdeen

We update changes to units on selected high streets and shopping centres on major shopping streets as and when we’re aware of them, but every quarter we take to the streets to check if there’s anything we might have missed in order to keep our data as accurate as possible.

The streets we currently track are Union Street, Belmont Street and its surrounding streets, Schoolhill/Upperkirkgate, Thistle Street, George Street up to its junction with Hutcheon Street and part of Chapel Street.

We also track both sides of the Bon Accord Centre, the Trinity Centre and Union Square.

The most recent data for February 2024 shows that the average vacancy rate was 21.3% across all of our tracked high streets. This includes Gaelic Lane, which has a 50% vacancy rate due to there only being two units on the street. Excluding Gaelic Lane, the average vacancy rate is 18.1%.

Schoolhill has the highest vacancy rate at 40.9%- there’s 22 units on the street and nine of them are empty.

This is followed by Belmont Street at 26.7% vacant, where eight of 30 units are not currently occupied.

The corner of Chapel Street and Union Street in Aberdeen city centre
The corner of Chapel Street and Union Street. Image by Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Chapel Street is a quarter empty, with five of 20 units vacant, and Union Street has 40 of 195 properties currently not operating, which is 20.5%.

George Street to its junction with Hutcheon Street is 17.% empty with 16 out of 93 units vacant. Back Wynd’s vacancy rate is 16.7% with two out of 12 storefronts not occupied.

Upperkirkgate only currently has one empty unit out of 12- an 8.3% vacancy rate, while Thistle Street has a 3.7% rate, also with one vacant unit.

Little Belmont Street, which has eight shopfronts, is the only street that is completely full.

Retail is no longer king

For the first time, food and drink has overtaken retail as the most popular unit type on the high street.

Across the tracked streets, there is now 112 food and drink outlets, compared to 107 shopping units.

The majority of food and drink locations are on Union Street, where there’s 44 restaurants, cafes or other types of food unit.

There’s also 19 on George Street, and 15 on Belmont Street.

Entertainment is still the lowest type of unit on the high street at five, while there’s nine gambling premises- with seven of these alone on Union Street.

In the shopping centres, the Trinity Centre has the highest vacancy rate at 32.1%, with nine vacant units out of 28.

The Bon Accord Centre has a vacancy rate of 26.8%, and has 15 vacant units out of 56, while the other side formerly known as the St Nicholas Centre is 10.5%, empty with two closed units out of 19.

Union Square is the most occupied, with only four vacant units out of 86- 4.7%.

In the shopping centres, retail is the most popular type of unit, with a total of 101 shops. There are 40 food and drink places across the centres- 29 in Union Square, eight in Bon Accord, and three in the Trinity Centre.

There are a few other types of units, including three entertainment units, four hair and beauty places, four services and five health and wellbeing stores.

How have vacancy rates changed?

Although it’s important that we have a mix of units available on our high streets, it’s also key that we lower vacancy rates in the high street.

Since the last census, things have been looking up for Aberdeen.

Since we did the initial census in June 2023, three of the streets we track have seen a decrease in vacancy rates- Upperkirkgate, Union Street and Thistle Street.

Two – Schoolhill and Belmont Street – have seen an increase in vacancy rates, while George Street, Chapel Street and Back Wynd either haven’t seen any changes since, or any changes have meant that the vacancy rate has stayed the same.

The average vacancy rate across all of the tracked shopping streets is currently 21.3%, compared to 21.85% in June 2023 and 27% in November 2023.

Meanwhile, new openings in each of the city’s shopping centres have meant the number of empty units has decreased since we first took census in June 2023.

There has been a decrease in the number of empty units in every centre since last June, with the average vacancy rate of 18.5% in February compared to an average rate of 22.97% in June 2023, and 21.9% in November 2023.

At the last census, the former St Nicholas side of the Bon Accord Centre had jumped up to a 21.1% vacancy rate from 15.79% in June 2023 and is the only centre that had increased its rate. Today, following openings including an American sweet shop and an Aberdeen gift shop, it has dropped down to 10.5% vacant.


What’s changed in Aberdeen city centre?

Over the past few months since our last walk round census, a number of new units have popped up across the city centre.

New units include a range of independent businesses, including Pera Palance and Mara on Thistle Street, Tucan on Belmont Street, Desert Rugs on Schoolhill, Cup@474 on Union Street and Resting Brunch Face in the Trinity Centre. For chains, Mountain Warehouse has now moved into a previously vacant unit in Union Square.

Resting Brunch Face MD Martin McAuley outside the aberdeen high street cafe
Resting Brunch Face MD Martin McAuley. Image by Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

However there has also been some closures, including independent businesses Latinway on Belmont Street and Haigs on Schoolhill.

Both businesses cited challenges such as lowered footfall and rising costs of bills.

Future plans for opening includes popular American food chain Popeyes, which will move into the former Poundworld store on Union Street.

Aberdeen’s high street has changed a lot over the years, including some of the types of units which fill our city centre.

Recent years have seen an increase of mobile phone repair shops set up business.

At our last census there was seven different mobile phone shops on Union Street alone. Since then, two more have opened, bringing the total to nine.

There is also a further three on George Street, and one in the Bon Accord Centre.

Another popular addition to the high street in recent years are vape shops.

There’s currently four on Union Street, one on Schoolhill and two on George Street.

Some longest closed units have re-opened

Although most of the units that have remained vacant the longest still remained so in our most recent census, some of them have finally gotten a new lease of life.

However, the former Aberdein Considine Property Advice Centre on Union Street, which had been shut since Spring 2015, is now occupied.

Phone Fit, a mobile phone repair shop, now operates out of the space.

Budz Bar, Aberdeen high street’s longest empty unit, is still closed, but its new owners recently gave more details on what they hope to do with the space.

This includes injecting £2m into the building that will see it include crazy golf, a nightclub and a cocktail bar.

Among the shopping centres, two of Union Square’s long empty units have been filled.

This includes the former Giraffe restaurant, which closed in June 2019. It is now an extension of the Wagamama restaurant.

The former Outfit store, also in Union Square has recently re-opened as Mountain Warehouse. Although it didn’t make it into the previous top 10 longest shut units, it was closed for over three years.

Is anything being done to help?

Plans for the future of the city centre took a step forward as the project to construct the new Aberdeen market has finally begun- although it will require the closure of Hadden Street for the duration of the works.

Machinery is on site to begin initial works, although the market isn’t expected to open until 2026.

On Union Street, work is to start which will include widening pavements and forming cycle lanes, and there are also plans to brighten up buildings between Market Street and Bridge Street.

However despite some positives, it remains a difficult time for retail, and a plea for tax breaks following retail closure blows in Aberdeen was rejected by the Scottish Government.

It came after news Marks and Spencer is closing its flagship St Nicholas Street building and expanding the current Union Square store.

Neil Gray, SNP economy chief at the time, said this was a sign there was “confidence” in the future of the Granite City.

Difficulties have also been exasperated by anti-social behaviour, which traders have claimed is driving business away.

Concerns have been raised about behaviour on Adelphi, which reportedly includes drugs, urination and proxy buying for young people.

Where can I see more?

We will continue to update places opening and closing on the above mentioned streets and shopping centres.

You can view our Aberdeen high street trackers which include the shopping streets.

And you can also view our Aberdeen shopping centres tracker.

To see more about what is happening to improve the city, we also have a page dedicated to the future of Aberdeen. 

Can you help us keep our tracker up to date?

All of the data included within our high street tracker is collected manually by the data team and reporters in Aberdeen.

It includes units opening and closing we’ve written articles on, as well as things we’ve noticed while out on foot in the area. Our last open dates may be estimates based on the best information we could find.

But we know we might not always spot everything, or get every closure date right.

We appreciate all the support we’ve received for our trackers so far, and would love if you would like to help us keep it up to date.

If there’s anything you spot opening or closing you’d like us to know about, or if you have more accurate information on closing dates or what the last business to occupy a unit was, you can let us know using the form below.

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