First Person - with Allan Crow

Allan Crow, Fife Free Press
Allan Crow, Fife Free Press
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‘‘The Kingsgate Shopping Centre, Fife’s number one shopping centre, is delighted to announce that H&M will soon be coming ...’

A POSITIVE story about retail developments in Fife has to be welcomed, but the fact H&M is moving into Dunfermline forces us to look again at our own town centre.

Now, more than ever, we must come up with the answer to one simple question - what is our vision for our High Street?

In a nutshell, how does it re-invent itself?

Back in the 60s, when traffic flowed freely along the High Street, independent retailers were its very heartbeat, but we also had cinemas (plural) and traditional restaurants such as the Green Cocakatoo.

The clamour to develop out of town retail parks - eagerly supported by many councillors of the day - changed the way we shopped, but the High Street still survived. To be honest the town should be big enough to cater for both.

High St in warehouse

Then Asda and Tesco muscled in on everything from books and DVDs to clothes, and the High Street saw another chunk of its trade sliced away, but it still endured. Give me a thriving Waterstone’s ahead of Tesco’s pathetic book stock of the top 20 best-sellers. Supermarket couldn’t care less about books - they’re just another item to pile high and sell low.

And then came ebay and the world of online shopping, and the High Street buckled to one knee. Parts of it keeled over.

If you want to find our High Street of 2012 then go along the bypass - it’ll be in a container on shelf 153, Aisle 627 inside Amazon’s giant warehouse pre-packed and ready to be shipped out at the click of a mouse.

Retailers cannot hope to compete with Amazon - they can only learn to live with it, if not love it, and adapt to survive, but as more and more either throw in the towel or go online themselves, where does that leave the real High Street?

Empty units scar the east and west ends as well as the pedestrianised zone and shopping centres.

Giving up isn’t an option. The High Street is the heartbeat of our town - a place to meet as well as shop, it is our nightlife sector, it gives employment to a large number of people, and it is the hub of our transport networks. For all of those reasons it has to be protected and nurtured.

New vision

Retail is vital to that future, but many of the small empty units are no longer fit for purpose, so maybe it’s time we opened them up, at minimal cost, to the world of arts and crafts which is vibrant across the Kingdom.

Imagine small shops filled by creative one-person industries all making and selling their own unique products? Wouldn’t that give people reasons to visit, reasons to shop and, above all, reasons to spend?

To achive that we need landlords to think beyond 15-20 year leases and maybe even take a chance or two, but the concept of a craft village might just work,

At the same time we need the night-time sector to stop eyeing each other up as the opposition and finally understand that their real competition is cut price booze from supermarkets, meal deals at M&S and the X Factor on the telly. Work together and maybe then you’ll stem the leakage to Dunfermnline and Edinburgh every Friday and Saturday night. The ‘buzz’ they have we need to regenerate in Kirkcaldy.

And we need car parking to become ‘pay on exit’ to stop chasing people out of town after their two hours are up.

The east end is crying out to become the Merchant’s Quarter - it’s waited long enough - and the new-look pedestrianised zone at least gives us the opportunity to showcase the town, but it is only the stage. It’s what we put on it, and in it, that will bring people back.

Do that and the next big name coming to Fife won’t be headed west ...