While many high streets and retail stores are shutting down, St Andrews continues to prove itself as the quintessential business community.
A report looking into the financial health of town centres has recently described the local area as a thriving sub-economy. It also clearly uncovered quite how gravely other British high streets are suffering with modern consumerism. Included in the report were statistics regarding the number of vacant shop units and the findings were very encouraging for St Andrews.
Not only did it outperform its region comprehensively, but also eclipsed the national average by a considerable amount. It was found that only 4.74% of retail plots were vacant across the town compared to just over 16% for Fife, and 14.1% for Britain as a whole.
St Andrews is looking to build on its success with the potential for a Business Improvement District (BID) to be approved next year. In principal, the mission of the project is to bring the town’s businesses together to work cohesively towards improvements that are not funded by the council. It will ultimately be down to the local retailers to decide whether the project goes ahead as its future will be hinged on a ballot system. A recent survey designed to gauge interest in the initiative is reported to have received positive responses from local businesses and the wider community.
In another development, BID has recently teamed up with Playfair Project, a student consultancy based in St Andrews, to tackle community issues such as waste management. The results of the collaborative project could be a good indication of how the introduction of BID could impact the town and its sustainability.
It is encouraging that it seems the entity is willing to reach out to a variety of groups. As well as becoming involved with students, BID has relations with people from a variety of business areas. Some of its members include Robert Glashan of the Fairmont Hotel, David Grove of Fife Council and Lisa Ross of Starbucks.
However, despite its relative success, St Andrews is at risk of losing a diverse shopping experience or succumbing to the pressure of larger companies vying for piece of the action. It has been reported that more than 500 shops across Britain were converted for leisure use as restaurants, bars, cafés and betting shops in the first half of 2013. This forces customers to retail parks and other urban areas when shopping for practical goods. With plenty of leisure facilities available already, St Andrews runs the risk of being placed in this category if it does not regulate the type of stores opening in the town.
Also, chain stores are always looking for an opportunity to move in, which poses a threat to independent stores who cannot compete with the low pricing and large budgets that these companies possess. This point is emphasised by the impending arrival of Pret A Manger on Market Street. Although many were excited to hear this news when it was released a couple of weeks ago, there are many long-term implications that could come with the latest heavyweight to open its doors in St Andrews.
With it likely to obtain a significant share of the market, both the spirit of local businesses and the long-term prospects for the town will be dealt a blow. It is common practice that when the going gets tough, chain stores will simply high tail it out of town leaving a desolated economy and empty storefronts in their wake.
By no means are larger companies inherently evil, but they do carry this inauspicious ability, and this must be recognised when considering the future of the historic town.
Thus, St Andrews must take its recent success with a pinch of salt. While it is evidently leading the way with its current level of business, it has now got the exigent task of maintaining it. Both the entry of chain stores and a lack of diversity risk upsetting the optimal balance it has achieved. However, it has the advantage of a strong economic foundation and a tight-knit community due to be united in cause next year.