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Annie Mo’s boss: ‘I’m having nightmares about bus gates as I fight to keep family furniture shop alive’

The furniture store has been an Aberdeen staple for 32 years, but owners say the bus gates have proven to be a real challenge.

Annie Mo's owner Emily McDonald at the Aberdeen bus gate on Bridge Street.
Emily McDonald is one of the cite centre business owners to back the Common Sense Compromise campaign. Image: by Scott Baxter / DC Thomson 25/06/24

“I’m having nightmares about the bus gates”, Emily McDonald admits.

Sitting on a plush sofa at her Aberdeen furniture shop Annie Mo’s, she tells me of the bad dreams that have been haunting her “for ages”.

“It’s the same dream over and over again, actually.

“I’m leaving the shop and I can’t even walk back home without getting a fine. That’s how much it’s affecting me. It’s haunting me even in my dreams.”

However, to her misfortune, this is way more than just a dream.

Emily McDonald from Annie Mo's at the former Aberdeen bus gate on Union Street.
Emily joined the family business in 2014. Image: by Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

Every single day, the bus gate signs and street markings just outside her city centre shop remind her that this is reality.

And it’s a reality she and her staff have been struggling to adjust to.

“Shocking”, “cruel” and “ridiculous” are just some of the words she uses to describe the bus gates as her previously quiet demeanour changes.

“I’m not doing it for selfish reasons,” she insists about joining the increasingly popular crusade against them.

“One day I’m going to, hopefully, inherit the family business and I want to ensure its future”.

Annie Mo’s on Union Street. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson

What changes are we calling for?

Emily is one of dozens of city centre businesses backing The Press and Journal’s Common Sense Compromise.

We call for the council to:

  • Keep the Guild Street bus gates, along with restrictions on Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate
  • Remove the bus gates at the Adelphi and Market Street, allowing access in both directions through Market Street
  • Remove the bus gates on Bridge Street, allowing full access in both directions
  • Remove the right turn ban on Union Terrace
  • Issue a warning rather than a fine to first offenders
  • Use fines to help city centre businesses via transport initiatives

Installation of bus gates came with a lot of questions…

Like many others, the installation of the bus gates came as a shock to Emily.

Suddenly the road her family has been using for the last 20 years to reach their stop was off limits.

Market Street bus gate
The controversial Market Street bus gate. Image: Norman Adams/Aberdeen City Council

Her biggest fear, of course, was the impact this would have on customers – with Emily even going to the extent of drawing “wee diagrams” to signpost them to the best route.

Speaking to me on a dreich Monday morning, Emily explains: “We started to really push the website and our social media channels to remind people that we are still here – and they can still get to us.

“It was hard… And it came with a lot of questions: How is it going to work? What should we do? What will this mean for customers and staff – because we are responsible for their livelihood as well.”

Bridge Street bus gate.
Union Street is now surrounded by bus gates – like this one on Market Street. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

‘The footfall we get from visitors to the city is really important’

Emily echoes the words of Douglas Hotel owner Mary Martin in an interview days earlier, as she tells me that one lucrative footfall from Aberdeenshire is drying up.

Finnies the Jeweller, on George Street, told us the same thing, and research from Aberdeen Inspired appears to back it up.

Emily continues: “We have a lot of loyal customers that, thankfully, are still making the effort to come. Even though they are now having to make more of an effort.

“It’s the visitors I worry about… Those coming to the city from Aberdeenshire or further away.”

The McDonald family has built a solid base of loyal customers over the last three decades. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson. Date; Unknown

The 32-year-old added: “What we are really seeing is a decline in sales of the smaller items that people would usually come in off the street for.

“That kind of footfall is really important. Especially on the days you’re not having these huge furniture sales, the small ones make all the difference.”

Family bought building for £750,000

For Emily, it’s about more than just keeping a shop alive – it’s about her family’s legacy.

They bought the building in 2008 for about £750,000.

Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson.

“I’m fighting for my whole family,” she laments.

“I wouldn’t want my parents to lose what they have built over 32 years, after starting on Holburn Street then moving here.

“Even if they don’t remove the bus gates, then if they are to stay we need some relief.

“We are paying £75,000 per year in business rates for the building.”

Let’s fight for the ‘greater good’

However, she adds that the changes would be “for the greater good” and not just for the sake of Annie Mo’s.

Dozens of other city centre businesses – including Gamola Golf, Ibis Hotel and various Trinity Centre stores – have joined forces with Emily in her quest for a compromise.

“It’s not just one or two businesses saying that,” she tells me.

“We are all very much in agreement with each other saying the exact same thing. Listen to us and remove the bus gates.

“I do think the people of Aberdeen like the shop, and there would be many who would be gutted if we weren’t here.”

Our front page on Tuesday, with a last-ditch plea to councillors to listen to their business community. Image: Mhorvan Park/DC Thomson.

How you can help

The Press and Journal is standing side by side with Aberdeen businesses and business organisations in an appeal to reach a Common Sense Compromise.

But we can’t do it alone – we need your help.

If you would like to back our Aberdeen bus gate campaign, add your name to the petition launched by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce HERE.

Other ways to show your support and have your voice heard can be found HERE.

Read more about what the Common Sense Compromise is all about and why city centre businesses are backing it: