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‘My first few months running Grampian Health Store have been ruined by Aberdeen bus gate chaos’

We spoke to Stephanie Hundtofte as she said the traffic measures outside her Market Street shop had made her brief tenure in charge "very difficult".

Grampian Health owner Stephanie Hundtofte at her store on Market Street, where one of the Aberdeen bus gates is installed.
Grampian Health store owner Stephanie Hundtofte says the bus gates in Aberdeen city centre are a "major put off" for potential new traders. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson.

“Do you regret taking over the shop?”, I nervously ask Stephanie Hundtofte after she lists all of the issues she’s had to deal with in the face of the bus gates outside.

The 47-year-old and her sister Sarah-Jayne Farman have been in charge of the Grampian Health store on Aberdeen’s Market Street for just six months.

They took over the family-run business of 30 years with “great enthusiasm” back in January, and had lots of ideas about how to bring new fortunes to it.

But the pair never foresaw how difficult this would turn out to be, with the bus gates out front hammering their customer numbers.

The front of the Grampian Health store on Market Street, where one of the bus gates is.
Grampian Health store has been directly affected by the bus gates in Aberdeen city centre. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson.

“I don’t regret it,” Stephanie responds after a brief pause.

“It was different for us because we took over an existing successful business.

“But if this was now, and somebody said to us ‘Here’s a Union Street unit, go ahead and start something’ – my answer would be ‘No way, absolutely not’.”

There is another slight hesitation, and she continues: “This is not something we thought we would have to deal with in our first few months.

“We thought it will be all about getting to know the business, getting to know the stock, meeting the staff, the customers…not fighting bus gates.”

The bus gates on Market Street, Bridge Street and Guild Street were introduced last August. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

‘Aberdeen city centre bus gates put more pressure on our shoulders’

Taking on a new venture is a challenge on its own even without the obstacles posed by the new city centre traffic measures, Stephanie admits.

There was an adjustment period, of course.

But with 15 years of experience in running a health store and good plan in place, the former Holland and Barrett manager was hopeful they would succeed.

Their ultimate goal was to make Grampian Health a one-stop destination for everything people might need for their wellbeing – from food intolerance tests to herbal remedies.

Stephanie and her sister even wanted to set up a food-to-go stand as well, offering fresh healthy sandwiches to office workers in the area at lunch time.

Stephanie has high hopes for the health shop. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson.

So where do the bus gates on Market Street fit in that vision?

“They don’t…” Stephanie scoffs.

“There’s a real anxiety there because the store had been hugely successful for over 30 years when we took it on.

“So right from the outset, there was this pressure to keep it as successful as it was – and, hopefully, make it even more successful.

“And now we have to couple that pressure with the fact that we don’t have the same amount of people coming to our store.”

More and more health store customers opt to shop online

The most frustrating part of the whole “bus gate chaos”, however, was that they didn’t get that much desired face-to-face contact with their customers.

Stephanie says the feedback they get from those coming through their doors would normally play a “crucial” role in how they decide to shape their fledgling business.

But as people began to divert from their store – fearful they might get caught up in the twists and turns of the bus gates – this became more of a “missed opportunity”.

Stephanie and staff meet customers from over the counter less and less frequently since the bus gates were installed. Image: Denny Andonova/DC Thomson.

“We are doing as much as we can,” Stephanie sighs.

“We can have offers, we can have promotions, we can do all these different things in store – but we need to be able to physically get people to walk through that door.

“And we hear this all the time: ‘I don’t come into town’, ‘I prefer to shop in places like in Inverurie or Westhill’, ‘It’s just easier to shop online’.

“People are just confused.

“And then a high percentage of our customers are elderly, so you have to factor in mobility or potentially health issues – it’s just hard for them to access the store.”

Reaching a common sense compromise is key to bouncing back

Stephanie is not the only business owner to suggest that Aberdeen’s loss could turn out to be Aberdeenshire’s gain.

In the last few weeks, similar concerns were voiced by the bosses of other city centre staples such as Douglas Hotel, furniture store Annie Mo’s and Finnies the Jeweller.

The Press and Journal city team along with Common Sense Compromise campaigners and supporters at one of the bus gates on Bridge Street, Aberdeen. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson 01/07/24

Stephanie is now among dozens of businesses, urging the council to listen to their needs and adopt The Press and Journal’s Common Sense Compromise.

She fears that footfall will drop even further if the bus gates are made permanent, stressing more should be done to make the city centre appealing.

The full set of proposals includes:

  • 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

Delayed bus gate decision is a ‘kick in the teeth’ for struggling businesses

Council chiefs were expected to vote on the controversial measures last Wednesday – but after a rather turbulent meeting, the matter was put off for another day.

After a last-minute intervention by councillor M. Tauqeer Malik, a decision is now bound to be taken before July 17 – instead of the initially suggested August 21.

“It’s a real disregard,” Stephanie laments, urging the council to find a solution to businesses’ problems sooner rather than later.

“We need to keep the city centre thriving and moving forward, and we can’t do that when we put up all these different barriers.

“We’re the people that ultimately will bring people into the city – it’s the retailers, the hospitality businesses – and yet, we are the ones left to suffer.”

The front page of The Press and Journal on bus gate decision day, July 3.
The front page of The Press and Journal on initial bus gate decision day, July 3.

She continues: “I understand that some traffic measures are needed, but not to that extent. And it’s the underhand nature of the process that gets me.

“These things just happened without consultation, without say and then even when objections are put forward, are they listened to? I don’t really know if they are.

“It’s a real kick in the teeth.

“We have the perfect opportunity to discuss this and do something about it – surely, that’s one of their most pressing points of business right now. Or at least, it should be.”

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 the Common Sense Compromise and why city centre businesses are backing the bus gate campaign: