Traders in Kirkcaldy’s Merchants’ Quarter have spoken of their shock following the news Marks and Spencer is to close, but are urging people to continue supporting the High Street and shop local.
While they are concerned about the impact the closure may have on their businesses, traders in the East End of Kirkcaldy say their community is thriving and they want customers to visit their shops so they can see what they have to offer.
Rose Bentley-Steed, who opened The Flower Ranger in May, said the closure of M&S is devastating as it has been a key store in the High Street for a long time.
She said: “It might have a little knock-on effect on my business in that people will come to me for more flowers and plants, but overall the customers who come to me often have a desire for more unusual varieties or types of arrangements that retail shops cannot offer. “I’m offering a service where a lot of it can’t be bought online where I also provide guidance and advice on how to care for their plants and flowers. That’s my unique and creative selling point.”
She continued: “Since I started my business in May the local support has been incredible. I am steadily getting busier and busier with lots of repeat custom and wedding inquiries from brides for next year.”
She continued: “I’ve had lots of visitors coming in and commenting how charming this part of the high street has become. There used to be nothing but closed down shops at the East End. Rather than allow their shop premises sit empty, property owners in this part of town have finally caught on to the idea that they have to make their rent more affordable, and this has paved the way for small businesses to start up. It seems like the most logical and pragmatic way to get folk back in the High street.
“Since this has happened there’s a whole new buzz with more indie shops moving in, it’s certainly becoming quite an attraction. Creativity fuels more creativity! Personally what I’ve come to learn is that all the local shops nearby have been the forefront of a real thriving community. We’re all doing every bit to support each other. If you haven’t been to this part of town before now is the time to come and visit!”
When asked what might help the High Street, she added: “I like the idea of moving the Farmers Market into town and introducing street food vendors and creative market stalls. The town is already part-pedestrianised but if the council will offer free parking it would definitely encourage visitors as well as traders back into town.”
Bushra and Muhammad Ghori own Harbour News in the East End and have been trading in the area for almost seven years.
Bushra said: “It is a big shock hearing the news that Marks and Spencer is closing - it is a big support for the High Street. “Big shops were already closing so there was a lot depending on M&S.
“For people who shop there and for Kirkcaldy High Street it is a big setback.
“The closure will affect everybody, all the shops in the High Street, because it brings people in. So many older people come in to Marks and Spencer and then they visit the other shops as well.”
Bushra said their business has been thriving. As well as the newsagent, they have recently bought the former launderette shop a few doors along.
She said: “We are doing well - we will be here seven years in January. We are open seven days a week and as well as being a newsagents we also offer the Hermes parcel service and customers can pay their bills through PayPoint.”
Bushra added: “It is a small community in Merchants Quarter and all the businesses here help and support each other.”
Karen Drummond, owner of fashion boutique Our House, which opened in the area just three months ago, said hearing the news of the closure came as a shock.
She said: “Where will older people go when Marks and Spencer closes? They go there for their shopping. What is the Council doing about it?
“Marks is a key store and the problem is how do we encourage people to come into town when we can’t keep Marks and Spencer?”
Karen continued: “I am a new business in the area but the problem is no-one knows I am here. We need to make people aware of the independent businesses which are here in the east end. We have a jewellers, a beauticians, a florist, a record shop, people should come along and see what we have to offer.”
Gail Cadogan, owner of My Cherry Pie, which sells handmade creative jewellery, said: “People need to focus on the positives. We need people to continue supporting their local shops. I had a customer the other day who said to me that after being in my shop, she now has a reason to visit Kirkcaldy High Street.
“We have to offer customers a unique experience, something they won’t find elsewhere.”
She continued: “There are concerns about the impact the closure of Marks and Spencer might have but I feel we rely too heavily on the larger retailers - yes they draw customers but I honestly can’t think what other retailer would suit that space.”
When asked what she thinks the High Street needs to boost footfall she said: “I feel we would be better focusing on a more social and leisure aspect to the high street.
“Create a place for people to meet up, see a film, put a crazy golf or trampoline centre in to attract families and create atmosphere.
“Develop a sense of identity, belonging, and uniqueness, and loyalty. Create experiences, destination shops and of course loads more local business and independent retailers! Help them rather than hinder them by reducing rates and dealing with parking charges!”
John Tallack, owner of the Wee Carpet Shoppe, which has been based in The Merchants Quarter for the past six years, said: “The closure of M&S was only really a matter of time with them opening at retail park.
“With my wee Carpet Shoppe I can’t see it making a lot of difference as most of my customers are coming to my shop with the intention of looking for flooring, my business is not the type of business where I get sales from people passing.
“I do offer a very personal service where all of my customers matter to me - I think this could be said for everyone in The Merchants Quarter. I for one disagree with all of the doom and gloom merchants that the High Street is dead, certainly not in The Merchants Quarter.
“We have to realise this is now a different High Street where maybe independent retailers can and will succeed. It is very hard to argue against the retail park with their free parking, that would be a massive incentive for the high street, not only for the retailers for customer footfall, but maybe if the council could provide one free customer car park it would increase customers which in turn may persuade other larger businesses to return.”