Traders’ concern for Kirkcaldy’s night-time economy following Society closure

There are concerns about the future of pubs and clubs in Kirkcaldy
There are concerns about the future of pubs and clubs in Kirkcaldy

The days when Kirkcaldy after dark enjoyed a bustling, vibrant night time economy with a pub on every corner and queues outside every nightspot, have long since departed the Lang Toun streets.

Cut-price alcohol in every supermarket, the smoking ban and a recession have all played their part in a seismic shift in how we consume our drink and where and when we do so.

A night time economy does still exists and is cited as vital for the healthy economic stability of our town centre by those, including Kirkcaldy Ambitions, Fife Council and Kirkcaldy4All, who have an vested interest in the town’s future well-being.

But fears for the future night time prosperity of the town have increased in the wake of the closure of nightspot Society, which shut down suddenly last week with the loss of around 25 staff.

Bought by owner Donald Murray in 2014, it once played host to hundreds looking for a good night out, but according to staff, custom dwindled significantly over the past two years.

“I know the owners were keen to see someone else buy the business but this was a surprise – they played their cards pretty close to their chests,” said one employee who wished to remain anonymous.

“It was a big building and with the rates and the rents, it was a struggle to stand still.

“I think there’s been an accumulation of different things as well. The High Street is struggling big time.

“On a Friday night we used to get over 400 people and that was down to 100. People just don’t have the money in their pockets.”

The news of the club’s demise triggered fears of an imminent collapse of the town’s nightlife with rumours that other Kirkcaldy venues were about to follow suit.

Society’s owners were quick to scotch the gossip that Dean Park Hotel, also on their books, was about to close, and a similar statement on social media from the people behind Fifty High Street also said the same: “We’re not closing.

“It’s really sad. Unfortunately in the current climate our local clubs, pubs and restaurants can’t survive on a two day week.”

Fifty High Street posted on their Facebook page: “Our town used to be so busy with custom. It’s not so good now. If they don’t get used we lose them. We need to get Kirkcaldy back on the map.”

Bar and club owners are in no doubt Society’s closure will have a lasting effect on Kirkcaldy’s ability to attract people into the town.

“There’s no doubting the closure was a shock and a blow for the town as a whole, and one it could struggle to recover from,” said Fifty High Street’s owner Lynn Robertson.

“We need a variety of venues in order to attract customers in the first place and to lose one of the biggest means that impact will filter down to everyone else,” she added.

“We have actually picked up some of the resulting trade but, make no mistake, another closure means it’s just going to get that much harder in the long run.”

Lynn points to a number of key factors, including the continuing impact of the recession as to why people are staying away.

“The reality is that people just have less to spend and are just not going out socialising throughout the week as they once did .

“We’re all trying to run our businesses on two or three nights per week, which is essentially the weekend.

“The idea is to adapt to changes and evolve in order to survive, but if people are simply not spending, then there is only so much we can do.”

Those comments are echoed at the opposite end of Kirkcaldy High Street by John Wilson, owner of Betty Nicols Bar and Bistro, who says the downturn must also be attributed to what he called the long-term mismanagement of the town centre.

“The town centre is a shadow of its former self, and that has not been helped in any way by some of the strange planning decisions in recent times,” said John.

“Out of town retail parks are not only taking the big name traders away from the town centre, they are also taking away the footfall and that in turn has a huge adverse effect on our trade.

“There needs to be a rethink by Fife Council and others on just how we are going to attract people back. I certainly don’t see anything working.”

And while John says he is the first to applaud the shift towards responsible drinking, largely down to new licensing legislation in recent years, he’s convinced it’s the chance to compete on level terms with supermarkets that will be the only way to halt the decline.

“People are more responsible, largely down to drink driving laws, and that must be welcomed. People no longer start their night out at 6-7pm, they drink alcohol at home, sold cheaper from supermarkets than we can buy it for.

“Until that changes, we’ll see not improvement in our night time economy.”