Aberdeen business leaders have called for people to “use or lose” the high street following the permanent closure of the city’s Disney store and a string of other outlets within the Bon Accord Centre.
It comes as retail giant John Lewis announced last month it would also close its doors to shoppers within the busy shopping precinct – with the loss of up to 265 jobs.
Granite City retailers have been hit-hard by the Covid-19 pandemic with businesses such as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Jigsaw and River Island also leaving the city.
Chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, Adrian Watson, called on Aberdeen shoppers to “come out” and “support” city centre businesses as restrictions are lifted over the next few weeks.
He said: “This new closure is just really disappointing and symptomatic of where we are at in the city.
“Covid has accelerated the challenge in terms of bricks and mortar with more people going online, which has become an issue.
“If there’s ever been a time to support businesses here, it is now.
“We are urging people when they are allowed to come out in two weeks to come out with confidence and to support these businesses, whether they are local or national chain stores, they are providing employment and are essential to the wellbeing of the city centre.”
Last year the Disney stores across the UK closed six-days ahead of the official national lockdown on March 23.
The social media page for the Aberdeen store – which opened in the Bon Accord Centre in September 1997 – now lists the business as “permanently closed”.
Craig Stevenson, Bon Accord Centre manager said: “Retail is a challenging environment, even more so following periods of lockdown.
“It is always unfortunate to see stores close their doors and we would like to wish staff all the best for the future.”
The closure of the popular shop comes following the news John Lewis will close its 200,000-square-foot store on George Street after 32 years in the city.
A city taskforce made up of local authority officials, business leaders and commerce chiefs has met with the high street giant in an effort to keep the brand in the north-east.
The director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, David Lonsdale, described the latest shop closures in Aberdeen as “tough news for an already hard-pressed city centre”.
He said the news of the Disney and John Lewis closures were “especially hard” as both are the “types of stores that would normally be seen as drivers of footfall”.
“Inevitably the combination of Covid restrictions, uncertainty over the economic outlook, ongoing pressures on stores and changes to shopping habits are forcing retailers to take very difficult decisions”, Mr Lonsdale added.
“In this climate, it’s vital the warm words from politicians and political parties on supporting shops and city centres are matched with concrete pro-business policies which will put in place the foundations for economic recovery.”
Aberdeen Central MSP, Kevin Stewart, said: “This is deeply disappointing news and my thoughts are with the staff at what will be an incredibly worrying time.
“Coupled with the John Lewis announcement, this really drives it home just how ambitious and imaginative we have to be about creating a sustainable city centre.
“The work to create a better future in Aberdeen and across Scotland will have to be significant and that is why the Scottish Government has already committed resources for economic recovery, regeneration and town centres.
“We require strong leadership with a bold vision for the future of our country.”
‘Everyone is going to be concerned’
A leading Granite City trader last night described the closure of the popular Disney store as “extremely concerning” for other nearby businesses.
Stuart Milne, general manager of Finnie’s the Jewellers and chairman of the Greater George Street Traders Association voiced concern over the number of large chain stores closing within Bon Accord Centre and what impact it could have on smaller local traders.
He said: “Everyone is going to be concerned about another big name disappearing from Aberdeen, but I had heard that the Disney Store had not been particularly well for a number of years, so some people were not surprised by it.
“It is causing some traders to consider their own position about what part of the city they should be in – but that is a question that won’t be answered until things open up again and we see where the dust settles.
“The Disney Store is not the only one that is closing in the Bon Accord Centre and I hope to get information about who else is going to be disappearing in our vicinity.”
However, the George Street business leader said he also believes that smaller independent stores, such as Finnie’s the Jewellers, do not solely rely on footfall from larger retailers.
Mr Milne said a number of shops in the area were “destination places” that Aberdeen shopper’s special effort to visit.
He added: “George Street does not have a lot of national chain stores in it, they are small local businesses and we don’t really know who of those will be reappearing in a couple of weeks’ time.
“We’ve just got to look forward with whatever optimism we can that customers will want to go out and spend money again.”