(Published in East Lothian Courier, Dec. 17th 2020)
For most of us, this year was pants. Few have escaped disruption to work, family and social life. National media loves reprting in simplified sound-bites, repeated ad nauseam. Such ‘big picture’ views can overlook underlying trends. The story of high street is bundled into that of declines across the board. in larger malls and anchor stores like Debenham’s. That may be true in Falkirk, but it’s not true here.
Yes, East Lothian has suffered with the rest during the first half of the year. But our local retail quickly learned Covid-compliance to adjust better than most. They were helped by our demographics. Much of our work force now works from home, where they can enjoy our green space, as well our high streets. Flat-dwellers eager to escape Edinburgh visited in numbers. With holidays abroad excluded. Staycation soared in summer after a Spring of cancellations. All helped offset a dearth of foreign visitors.
The net result was local high streets besting the retail big boys, although the pattern was uneven. During Spring’s three-month lock-down, supermarkets and pharmacies did well. But local tradesmen also enjoyed a surge in demand. Shops that could stay open—from butchers to bakers to hardware —switched to deliveries. Pubs, cafes restaurants and hotels wete all hurt, keeping afloat with furloughs and grants available via E.L.Counci.
June brought surprising relief, mostly in the East. Together with many home-working residents who rediscovered what high streets offer, day visitors and staycationers boosted many businesses back to normal turnover.
Galleries, craft & gift shops, florists and owner-run specialists—whether deli, fruit & veg or women’s clothing—all recovered. Cafes and restaurants had a harder time coping with social distancing. Local services like repair, t-short printing,custom ornaments, weddings, etc. did less well. The net result is that high streets in the East are enjoying seasonal footfall and sales, which started earlier this year. The county moving to Level 2 meant local people were unable to shop in an Edinburgh kept at Level 3.
Unfortunately, the same trend is less evident in high street retail in the West. Takeaways there have bounced back but, as elsewhere, pubs, discount stores, chain outlets and events-dependent businesses found takings down and no compensation for losses made during shut-down. The outlook for our local high streets os better than the telly would have you believe. This may show how it can be done. Most common comment from shop owners? To the