My curiosity was raised by three words scratched on the empty shop window. “It’s not Tesco,” was a nicely enigmatic teaser which turns out to be true. The food store about to open in Canonmills is a very different kind of business.
“We won’t be any competition to Tesco,” says Dirk Douglas, one of the directors of Earthy Foods and Goods. Hard to tell over the phone but the comment sounds deadpan. Even so it’s a big, bold move for the organic food business which opened in a former wine store in Edinburgh’s Southside in May 2008. A small company set on growing slowly and surely has found itself taking a big step across the city because the opportunity came up. Just down the hill from Tesco.
Last year they opened their second store, Earthy Porty, in Portobello which now also serves as company HQ. But they’d had their eye on the Canonmills site for a couple of years and when the back-end lease came up recently they jumped at the chance.
“It an ideal site with a high-profile,” says Dirk, “a high street shop without being on the high street if you see what I mean.”
Quite apart from the surrounding economic gloom, the site has advantages and disadvantages: overlooking the Water of Leith but overshadowed by who-knows-when plans for a controversial property development which gained planning permission despite strong local opposition.
I’ve lived here long enough to remember an odd succession of businesses occupying the low-lying building that sits at a junction between Broughton, Stockbridge and Inverleith. The old ship’s chandlers with adjoining real ale shop became an uncomfortable looking outfitters specialising in kilts and evening wear. That didn’t last too long. Then Dionika got off to a good start with a thriving restaurant and deli but, sadly, seemed to run out of steam and customers.
The site looked blighted. Indian take-away moved to premises across the road but when the owner of the fireplace store decided to retire… along came Earthy. And that sounds like thoroughly good news for the area. Food and cafe culture seem to have developed some resilience to recession – when price, quality and location are right. (Although the Starbucks effect can be devastating as recent closure of Always Sunday in the Royal Mile shows).
Earthy, you might like to know, stands for Ethics, Appreciation, Respect (for environment and for people), Trustworthy, Hardworking… and Young at heart. If that sounds far-fetched you just have to meet the team behind the business to see that they mean it.
In fact I met Dirk Douglas and some of the team a couple of years ago when I was on a copy-writing assignment for a Glasgow PR. I went back to the store as a customer a few times – I liked the mix of seasonal food, local produce and friendly self-confidence, but going to the Southside on a shopping trip really meant taking the car and that kind of undermined the environmental benefits of buying local, seasonal food.
“A lot of our customers were asking, when can you come to Broughton? A lot more visit our website and ask can you come to Stockbridge? Come to Leeds!” For now, though, the move to Canonmills is enough. All being well Earthy – food store, take-away café and licensed restaurant – opens in early April.