Never look a gift horse? I’m wandering up Broughton Street in two minds. It seems churlish to complain about bright new shops opening so soon after the old businesses closed down. In the age of austerity too. But the old curmedgeon in me can’t help feeling it’s a shame there are so few shops selling things people need. How many gift shops can Broughton actually support?
Whatever happened to places where you could buy purposeful things like string and nails and steel wool; stores with floors that creaked welcome and oozed no-nonsense smells: paraffin, jeyes fluid, linseed oil and maybe just a heady whiff of glue.
When we first came here there were at least four hardware stores within walking distance, two of them in Broughton Street. There was Alec’s and a basement place on the corner where you could buy buckets and brooms and get keys cut and shoes mended (or am I rolling several shops into one). It was a long time ago, so long B&Q had not arrived in the neighbourhood, if you wanted paint and plaster board you went to Dodge City down by the Water of Leith.
Alas poor Grays: will this be the most interesting display to appear in the new shop?
Now they are all gone. Even Grays has turned into White Stuff. The old Edinburgh ironmonger hung on a surprisingly long time in George Street while all around banks turned into bars. Unlike the venerable Crockets – still going strong in Glasgow – Grays seemed to lose its way in the last few years: neither ironmongers, electricians, nor furniture store. But it was a comforting break between bistros and fashion chains.
This is grumpy old woman stuff. The other night we went to see The Illusionist (as beautiful a film as friends said it was) and I found an unexpected nostalgia welling up inside me for the days when Patrick Thomson ruled North Bridge, when Jenners was Jenners and shops were shut on Sundays.
Things change. Two months ago I wrote about the energising pop-up culture which sees opportunity in empty shops and I was really encouraged at the comments which appeared on my blog, along with news of imaginative new enterprises. One of them, Frugal in Musselburgh, has now graduated from being a temporary pop-up to a growing business in permanent premises.
On Broughton Street two of three empty shops have quickly reopened as gift shops, The third is a lovely space which used to be Alec’s hardware store full of nails, timber and steel wool. I don’t suppose there is any chance a pop up ironmonger will reclaim it?