Selkirk shopkeepers have expressed broad support for the idea of new pop-up shops, but they emphasised it has to be done right to work.
The Royal Burgh’s Chamber of Trade was awarded nearly £22,000 earlier this month to set up pop-up shops in the town centre, in order to help reverse its 30 per cent drop in pedestrian footfall.
The idea is to allow businesses to rent premises for a day, a week or a month so they can try out an idea without being tied to long-term commitments.
Before the end of 2013, the Chamber aims to find uses for at least five currently-underused shops, and create three new start-up businesses and seven short-term lets. The Leader and Selkirk Common Good funding pays for a part-time project manager to see the initiative from beginning to end, plus renovation and marketing for the new pop-up shops.
“I think it’s a great idea,” enthused Maureen Ewart, a volunteer at Barnados, in the West Port, “because if you go into a town with a lot of closed or for sale signs it looks terrible.”
Barnardos manager Mandy Cockburn agrees: “Anything that puts people into vacant properties is a good idea. Another good thing about pop-up shops is that it’s a trial. I think it’ll improve trade here. The big brands are dying, and we need to encourage people to come back to town high streets.”
“It’s a good idea – anything which tries to help retailers in the town is to be welcomed,” thinks Drew McCraw of Houseproud on Tower Street. “But my concern would be how shoppers will know the stock in the pop-up shop is there, because the timescale is so short. I’ve been here 12 years, and I still get people saying: ‘Oh, I didn’t know there was a hardware shop here.’”
“It’s a good idea. I’ve seen them work,” added Teresa Colbert of Jazrose coffee shop. “But they need to be managed and promoted – that’s so important. Unless people are told about them, they don’t work.”
A cautious note was struck by Michael Bray of Granny’s Den: “It will benefit the shop owners, who get the rent and their shops renovated and promoted, but how will that benefit the town’s other traders? It could work if everybody works together.”
Chamber chairman Will Haegeland said: “Our overall mission is to identify and advance the common interests of businesses in Selkirk and to promote the town. We are a membership organisation for all local traders and businesses. Any business owner that wants to be involved and influence what we do and how we do it, should become a member and take part in our meetings.
“What we are determined to achieve with the pop-up shop initiative is to add energy and variety to the retail experience in the town and make the centre of the town attractive to visit and explore. Through this we will increase footfall, which brings a great opportunity to all local retailers and businesses. I am thrilled to see that we have so many local supporters, and we will make sure we keep everyone informed and involved.”
Explaining more about the motivation behind the Selkirk’s pop-up shops, Mr Haegeland said: “More than 16 per cent of retail units in the town are left vacant. A town centre showing boarded-up and closed-down retail units suggests dilapidation and depression. If Selkirk as a town is to survive, this trend has to be arrested and reversed.
“Selkirk Chamber of Trade and Commerce thinks it is time to regain a feeling of community and pride for the High Street,” he said. “In and around Selkirk there is a vast range of arts, crafts and food produce being made, but very little of this is for sale within the town. Very few are acknowledged in the town centre, yet all may benefit from frequent exposure and outlets there.
Mr Haegeland, co-owner of Selkirk’s County Hotel, added: “Despite its setting and its literary and historical associations, Selkirk does not seem to offer enough to encourage prolonged visits by tourists. Measures to improve this situation need to be supported by healthy retailing, attractive to visitors and locals.
“We want people who own empty premises to come and speak to us – the pop-up shop will not just benefit them, but the whole town.”