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Business / Councillor pleased to see ‘positive’ progress on the street

The Superdrug shop on Friday (10 November). Photo: Shetland News

A LERWICK councillor who expressed concern about Commercial Street earlier this year has acknowledged positive progress in recent months – but his main worry now is the condition of empty properties.

Neil Pearson said he has been impressed by the work of town centre organisation Living Lerwick in trying to boost the fortunes of the street.

It comes as Superdrug prepares to open its doors on 24 November in the former M&Co building.

People have been able to gaze in through the windows and see work progressing inside to fit out the store, which will be open seven days a week.

Its pink lighting, contrasted against black signs, has also caught the attention.

Back in March Lerwick South councillor Neil Pearson said he felt the street was in a “dire situation” with shops closing and properties laying empty.

Lerwick South councillor Neil Pearson.

At the time many businesses were moving on from premises, but since then many have been filled.

Speaking this week, Pearson said: “There has certainly been some positive movement around the street and I have been impressed with the work Living Lerwick and the vendors on the street have been doing to try to make Commercial Street somewhere our community can be proud of.

“At the end of the day, in order to fill the empty properties we need two things; first we need the current property owners to engage with organisations like Living Lerwick and any parties willing to rent their properties and second we need vendors willing to come forward to open up businesses on the street.”

The councillor said from the outside it looks like some shop fronts just sit dormant – “and they do” – but in the background there is a lot more going on.

He said the Living Lerwick team are “working quite tirelessly” to try to put interested vendors in touch with building owners.

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“But a lot of the issues are coming from owners unwilling to engage or rent their properties at this time,” Pearson added.

“It’s a shame because there is not a lack of interested parties looking to rent properties.

“The biggest concern I have now is the poor state of repair many of these empty properties are now in owing to a lack of use.”

The councillor added that it is “easy to pass blame and make bold statements like ‘we need this company or that company here’” – with some on social media frustrated another clothes retailer has not taken the place of M&Co.

“But the simple truth is that these companies themselves need to want to be here,” Pearson said. “We need to dispel the myth that someone is preventing them – absolutely nobody is stopping them if they want to come.”

Meanwhile ahead of Superdrug opening in what is a rare example of a national chain moving into Shetland, Living Lerwick manager Emma Miller said: “We’re always pleased to see a new business opening in Lerwick town centre giving customers more choice and another reason to visit the area.

“The fact that national chains are interested in our high street is very positive and offering additional opening hours in the lead up to Christmas will be welcomed by many.

“Staffing is a challenge for many businesses just now so we’re very pleased to hear that Superdrug has been able to fully recruit for the new store.”

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