The shops had names like Hourstons, McEwens of Perth, Young’s of Falkirk, and Esslemont & Macintosh, each with its distinct character and wealth of reasons
to visit. 

For generations, no Saturday afternoon was complete without a wander down the high street to browse the local shops for a new television or school uniform, Noritake china plates or maybe a wedding dress. 

Scotland’s high streets were the beating hearts of the communities they served; where locals shopped, socialised and spent their money.

Slowly decaying for years, now the devastating destruction of the traditional Scottish high street has been revealed in fresh figures which paint a depressing picture. 

According to a report from business advisers French Duncan, Scottish retailers have been going bust at the remarkable rate of just over one a week for the past 10 years. 

Its report says almost 620 businesses have called in administrators in the last decade, with countless more pre-empting the risk of going bust and shutting down. 

Their demise has cost the UK taxpayer more than £1 billion over the last five years.

The huge sum has been paid by the UK Government to cover redundancy payments and unpaid wages after several large firms and big-name retailers were plunged into insolvency.

In Scotland alone, the payments totalled more than £75 million.
Those troubling findings follow recent research from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), which showed that one in eight high street shop premises lay vacant in January.

For shoppers heading into Ayr this weekend, there is one less store to visit. Hourstons has closed its doors for the last time, bringing to an end 123 years of trading and 70 jobs. 

Yesterday, the business’s joint liquidators French Duncan confirmed the business has ceased to exist, it won’t be sold as a going concern and its landmark building is up for sale.

The Alloway Street department store had battled hard to keep up with a modern digital world of retail. Its Instagram page was filled with filtered shots of chic outfits and updates of sales events, yet its page attracted a mere 218 followers. 

On Facebook, it achieved a 4.5 star rating from visitors who praised its service, while its final day  brought a stream of fond memories of shopping with granny, popping into the Art Deco pink and blue powder room toilets where 5p in the slot of the perfume dispenser  bought a squirt of Lily of the Valley or Tweed, and sipping hot orange and savouring cakes in the restaurant; memories which no online shop could ever replicate. 

“It’s never easy saying farewell,” posted manager Linda Lawson on the store’s final Facebook update. “Goodbyes so often get caught in your throat. 

“Every ending has a new beginning, and this our time take our leave and find our next adventure.” 

French Duncan’s Eileen Blackburn, the firm’s head of restructuring and debt advisory, said: “Hourstons battled against the changing retail environment but this is a story being told on the high streets of many of our town and city centres.

“For every insolvent business there are likely to be half a dozen others which closed before things became that desperate. If something isn’t done then there will undoubtedly be more closures, and more darkened city and town centres attracting fewer and fewer shoppers.”

It sounds bleak. But is it possible that the tide is about to change?  

And could a new Scottish Government cash injection of £50 million into a new Town Centre Fund – announced by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay in the Budget and the first of its kind for a decade – inject fresh life into Scotland’s wilting shopping streets? 

The SRC has suggested the cash should be made available to councils to drive down crippling business rates.

However the Finance Secretary has made clear he expects it to be used to “support our town centres to diversify and develop, ensuring our town centres are thriving, sustainable places where people choose to spend their time”.

Phil Prentice, chief officer at Scotland’s Towns partnership and national programme director for Scotland’s Improvement districts, says the money should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to create a new style of Scottish high street. 

“It could go a long way if local government is brave and shows some leadership and innovation,” he says.

“It’s about repurposing buildings,” he adds. 

“These are often characterful buildings in a town and if they can be gifted by 
banks as a societal payback, then it’s a win-win.”

“Town centres will always be there, but they will be different,” he adds. 

“We shouldn’t get caught up in the anxiety of the loss of retail shopping. We know that has happened and we should be looking to the future instead.”