St James Quarter Bucks Retail Trend As It Opens In Edinburgh

With precious few new shopping centers due to open their doors in Europe this year, Edinburgh St James Quarter bucked the trend this morning as it opened its first phase in the Scottish capital, introducing an 850,000 sq ft shopping galleria.

But malls aren’t just malls anymore and developer Nuveen Real Estate is promising to deliver a major mixed use scheme that regenerates an important section of the city and helps rebalance the strangely lop-sided Princes Street, while catapulting Edinburgh to the #8 retail destination in the U.K. from an embarrassing 13th beforehand.

That’s something that should be welcomed by the locals, because despite its huge tourist draw (in more normal times) and plethora of festivals for music, comedy and traditional Scottish culture, Edinburgh’s retail provision has been pretty woeful up to now. Rival Glasgow sits as #2 U.K. retail destination after London but Edinburgh has languished and has been held back by the odd layout of its main retail drag.

Princes Street may be the city’s main retail avenue but it only has stores on one side, with the gardens – leading up to the famous Edinburgh Castle – on the other. This makes it a long and not especially user-friendly stretch, especially given Edinburgh’s frequently under-whelming weather. St James Quarter gives it an anchor it was previously lacking and some more retail provision, which the city badly needed.

So the completion of the first phase of the $1.4 billion, 1.7 million square feet scheme promises to creates a new lifestyle district that adds hospitality and residential elements to the revitalized retail as they complete in further phases through 2022.

St James Quarter Replaces Tired Mall

St James Quarter is both a development and redevelopment. A tired mall stood on the original site and the previous John Lewis department store anchor from this has been retained and modernized, reopening this May. However, most of what was previously there has been bulldozed to open up the site and when fully open the scheme will feature a shopping galleria with 80 retailers, a mix of restaurants, a Bonnie & Wild food hall (which opens in July), Scotland’s first, 244-room W Edinburgh Hotel, a boutique Everyman Cinema movie theater, a 75 residence Roomzzz Aparthotel, 152 residential apartments from Native Land and 1,600 car parking spaces.

For now, over 40 retailers opened their doors as of this morning, many of which are debuting their brand in Scotland for the first time, including & Other Stories, Stradivarius, Bershka, Pull&Bear, H&M, Mango, Next – including its Victoria Secret offering – Rituals, Tommy Hilfiger, Peloton, Salerno, and Nordic Outdoor.

A number of retailers will debut new concepts including Zara, Superdrug, Breitling, The Body Shop with its first ‘Activist Workshop’ store in Scotland, Lego, plus IOLLA – introducing an intriguingly dubbed ‘experiential showroom with an interactive try-on garden’. But the feather in the cap is the just-announced Fall debut of H Beauty, a dedicated beauty concept from department store group Harrods.

Pandemic Delays Opening

Completing St James Quarter has not been the easiest of projects. Situated on a World Heritage site, the scheme started in October 2016, having achieved planning in 2009. It was supposed to open last year but the pandemic well and truly put pay to that, so construction and fit-out was completed in challenging circumstances.

One of the developer’s main ambitions is to get St James Quarter on the cultural circuit and it will have nine event paces to host elements of Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh Jazz & Blues and the Edinburgh Science Festivals, once they are allowed to return.

While there are a few new schemes opening in Europe – the largest of which was Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s Mall of the Netherlands earlier this year – the continent’s overall development pipeline is pretty much all dried up, with little appetite for more retail space at a time when most store groups are shuttering outlets.

In that way Edinburgh is an outlier, in the hugely unusual position among major U.K. cities of being ‘under-retailed’, with poor provision for locals and tourists for a city of its size and popularity as a destination. Neighbour and rival Glasgow’s prominence as a shopping hot spot can hardly have helped, so the project is likely to be warmly received now it is finally, if partially, open.

Martin Perry, director of development for St James Quarter, admitted: “The impact of the pandemic has of course had a profound impact on U.K. retail. However, retail required a rethink long before the pandemic. It is the reason we are focusing on creating a unique experience for our customers.”

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