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The businessman who took on Batchen Street’s biggest building – and his thoughts on the future of Elgin

David Robertson breathed new life into the former Giles Café Bar on Batchen Street and created Bijou.

Bijou Elgin owner David Robertson is pictured inside the shop. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Bijou Elgin owner David Robertson is pictured inside the shop. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Bijou has been a Batchen Street mainstay in Elgin town centre for around 20 years.

Some might have been frightened to buy the street’s biggest building.

The saying goes with the purchase of old buildings comes the discovery of more and more problems.

However these things never fazed David Robertson when he sold his home to help buy and give new life to the former Giles Cafe Bar.

The former Giles Cafe Bar. Image: David Robertson

He always had the ambition to own an Elgin town centre building.

And he had previously rented properties on the same street and outgrown them.

Around 14 years ago, he opened up Bijou Elgin in its forever home in the stunning stone building which dates back to 1912.

Spread over two floors, the store offers cards, gifts, jewellery and a coffee shop.

We previously reported on Bijou’s success. Image: Clarke Cooper/DC Thomson

Before and after the transformation

The former Giles Cafe Bar.  Image: David Robertson
Now it is Bijou Elgin’s forever home. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Mr Robertson says he had a clear vision for the building at 8 – 10 Batchen Street.

He believes evolving has been key for his business as the landscape of retail continues to change.

David Robertson looks back on the journey to transform Batchen Street’s biggest building. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

He recalled: “It was always an ambition to grow the business to Elgin with the success of our shops in Buckie.

“When we first open for business, we had a rent of £10,000 per year for a smaller unit at 21 Batchen Street.

“After two years, we took on the building next door too and ran both for a number of years.

“Then I sold my house and put the money down and borrowed the rest of the money to buy the former Giles Cafe Bar and renovate it all.”

Giles Cafe Bar.  Image: David Robertson

For David, the journey from renting commercial properties to owning his own building in the Elgin town centre has been gradual.

He said: “We have gradually built our offering and business.

“Somebody had to take on the biggest building on Batchen Street and be brave enough to transform it and make it a success.

“We bought the Batchen Street building when more than half of the shops were empty.

“The building was a real mess when we purchased it.

“People were saying don’t buy an old commercial building as there will be only problem after problem.

“That never put me off as I was always passionate about owning an Elgin town centre building and had a clear picture of what I wanted to create with a busy gift shop downstairs and a cool coffee shop upstairs.”

The success story of Batchen Street

Batchen Street. Image: Jason Hedges/ DC Thomson

Batchen Street continues to be hailed as a roaring success in Elgin with its strong offering of cafes and shops.

David says it is important the street doesn’t show any complacency.

He said: “Batchen Street is a prime example if you can get the right size of commercial units, right environment and right people that want to do different things, you can create something special.

“It is a microcosm of what Elgin can become.

“It has a mix of services, coffee shops, flower shops, restaurants, gift shops and Richard Cumming’s Sirology. 

“There is lots to do, eat and shop for all in one place.

“At the same time, Batchen Street can’t rest on its laurels.”

Inside Bijou. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

What does the future hold for Bijou Elgin?

Bijou is the biggest seller of Jellycat toys in Elgin. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

He is focused on ensuring Bijou continues to be a success.

Last year, he welcomed Julie Stuart, Yvonne Main, Sarah-Jane Davies and Robyn Wheeler as tenants on the ground floor as they set up a hairdressers business called HQ at Bijou.

Our coverage of the hairdressers becoming tenants.

David said: “We have no plans for changes or to expand at the moment.

“We had the big change with the hairdressers last year and we will look to get different and new products for the gift and coffee shops.

“We want to continue to provide a nice shopping environment and security for my staff as we are running a good business.

“We are all in this together.

“The key thing about the future of retail is about the service quality.

“Especially as people will always be willing to sell something cheaper online.

“People need to make sure to show off their products and make people feel welcome when they visiting their stores.”

The coffee shop pictured. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Finding solutions and positivity key

Aerial view of St Giles' Church looking across Elgin High Street and rest of town.
Elgin High Street. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Here are some things, he would like to see happen in Elgin:

  • A coach drop-off near the taxi rank
  • Bigger Elgin town centre buildings being spilt into small units

David added: “It is easy to be negative, I think it is all about solutions.

“We need to create a proper coach drop-out ideally in the town centre near the taxi rank.

“We also need the pathways leading  from Cooper Park into the town centre to be cleaned and better lit so we can make a nice first impression to visitors.

“If we can make a great first impression to get people coming to Elgin, then the businesses can have the responsibility to have interesting things to do and provide a good service.”

Exterior of closed M&Co and Starbucks
Former M+CO is currently empty.  Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

He believes bigger units in Elgin town centre need to be split.

David explained: “You have the bigger buildings like Poundworld lying empty and they need to split into smaller units and be available for lease.

“On the other hand, you can go New York style where you keep the big buildings and create sub lets whether it is food or retail.”

High Street entrance to the St Giles Centre.
St Giles Shopping Centre in Elgin.

Asked about the St Giles Centre, he replied: “The biggest issue with the centre is the units need to be more affordable.

“There are still people out there with the same dream as my mum and dad to be their own boss and run their own business.

“Also make it that their work generated their income.

“We must also provide help to encourage more people to do that.”

Meanwhile, he is looking forward to seeing what happens with the South Street redevelopment and North Street reopening once the Poundland works are completed.

Read more about Elgin town centre