SELKIRK traders have hit on a plan to reverse the decline in shoppers to the town.
The Royal Burgh’s Chamber of Trade plans to create four ‘pop-up’ shops in Market Place and High Street, where businesses can rent premises for a day, a week or a month at a time.
“The Chamber of Trade realised the town needed a lift and a freshness,” explained Stuart Davidson, an architectural technologist whose practice is in the town. “We’ve got a few empty shops, and we saw pop-up shops working in Stirling and East Kilbride, and thought: ‘why not here?’”
“Pop-up shops are there for anyone to use for half a day, up to a week,” he added. “It gives businesses flexibility, by not having to fix themselves to premises or a long-term lease.
Will Haegeland, chairman of Selkirk’s Chamber of Trade, spoke of the group’s fight to reverse the declining footfall.
“There’s been a bleeding of shoppers into other towns,” said the County Hotel owner, “so there’s been a decline in the retail available in the town, and an increase in the number of empty premises.”
In August, a report for Scottish Borders Council revealed that pedestrian footfall in eight towns across the region dropped by 17 per cent in four years – with Selkirk the hardest hit, losing 30 per cent of its shoppers between 2007 and 2011. “We need to arrest that trend,” Mr Haegeland vowed, “so the Chamber set up the pop-up shop initiative. We wanted to get people back into Selkirk to shop.”
Pop-up shops would be useful for three more categories of local businesses, added member Viv Ross. “First, for businesses outside the town with no presence in the Market Place or High Street,” she said. “Secondly, for craft workers with workshops elsewhere. And thirdly, for food producers. It’s ideal for people who have an idea for a business, but who are daunted by a long-term lease. It gives people a taster, to see if it works.”
“It gives people in the valleys a presence on the High Street,” Mr Davidson added, but there are also other possibilities such as an artists’ gallery, exhibition, or promoting event.
The group have submitted a Leader funding application for 75 per cent of the £20,000 needed to refurbish four empty shops and employ a part-time administrator, and the group is hoping to secure the remaining 25 per cent from other funding bodies, such as Awards For All and Selkirk’s Common Good Fund.
“We need to find £5,000 ourselves,” Viv Ross revealed, but if the group hears that their Leader application has been successful in December, they hope the first pop-up shop can be open in the spring of 2013.
But Morris Manson, owner of the ‘flagship’ pop-up shop at 48 Market Place, is confident his can be up and running sooner.
“I can only see it as an asset,” he said. “It’s a multi-purpose space for anybody. It’s a chance for people to try their business idea.
“Ideally, I’d like to keep the rent between £30-£50 a day – which is a good rent for people to try something for a day, a week, or a month. Two or three producers can also share the property and share the rent.”
Mr Manson also said prices would be negotiated for those renting more than a few days. “It’ll be good if Selkirk shoppers start to ask themselves: ‘What on earth is going to happen there next week?’” he concluded.
The other buildings being considered to host pop-up shops are the restaurant La Contea and the empty shop on the corner of Tower Street, and the Chamber plans to create an exciting programme of businesses.
But they view pop-up shops as only a short-term solution, to be combined with the community action plan to make the town centre more attractive, vibrant and busy.
Mr Haegeland said: “Beside the pop-up shops, there needs to be a long-term sustainable strategy for the town centre retail offering. People want to be in spaces that are interesting and make them feel good. So we’re working with the town’s community action plan to create spaces that people want to be in, and come back to.”
Meanwhile, Galashiels has created its own ‘pop-up shop’ idea with puppet theatres in the town’s vacant shop windows.
Ruffled Feathers, a community arts group based at the WASPs studios in Selkirk, has recently been awarded an Awards for All grant from the National Lottery to run preparatory workshops for children and young people in advance of a pop-up puppet theatre event next year in Galashiels, called Windows to the Future. For more information, visit www.ruffledfeatherspuppets.co.uk