New Ventures, Expansions & The Return – How Da Street Fought Back

As the pandemic continued to surge throughout the country, the governments of both the United Kingdom and Scotland finally took the step to put the nation into lockdown. Non-essential shops were forced to close their doors to customers and the population were told that they would only be allowed to go out for essentials and for their one piece of daily exercise. No more could you nip into Harry’s for your household goods, no longer could you go and get pictures printed by Ben Mullay and his dedicated team at The Camera Centre. Business owners, their staff and their customers had their routines changed drastically.

Without an end in sight, the passionate people that occupied the historic buildings dotted along Lerwick’s beautiful harbour had to adapt and change.

“It was a major blow to have to close during what would normally be the busy time of year for them.” Emma Miller, of Living Lerwick, would go on to tell us more about how Da Street responded to the significant challenges that was facing them.

“Some were able to continue trading online and the financial assistance from the government in terms of the job retention scheme, rates relief and small business grants was definitely a help.”

The resilience needed by all during this time was paramount, and the same goes for those that maybe saw no future for their business that they had dedicated their lives to. However, Shetland & particularly Da Street has not seen large numbers of businesses unable to reopen as many feared.

In fact, the street has saw new businesses emerge and one continue its expansion despite the clear financial obstacles that would daunt them.

“I am absolutely delighted to see new businesses opening in town, and the expansion of Island Larder – even more so at this time.

“What Nicola & Magnus (and their staff) have done to increase their range and provide fresh local produce on a daily basis is just fantastic. I hope that with the ready availability of locally produced fresh bread, milk, meat, fish and other items, the Shetland public will acknowledge the demand for this service has been met and use it. Also, I should point out that Don Leslies also offer a range of fresh produce including locally made rolls, pies, deserts and meat”

Island Larder Family

(Photo from Shetland News)

Away from the expansion of Island Larder into their new premises, 88 Commercial Street would have new occupants with the recent open of No88 Kitchen and Bar. With a glorious menu that focuses on Shetland’s incredible local produce, supporting local suppliers and other small businesses.

Shetland being spoilt for choice of cuisine does not stop there however, with a Noodle bar taking the place of Island Larder at the heart of Da Street.

“I think there is quite a bit of excitement about Everest Thai Noodle Bar opening. It is a popular cuisine and we have not seen it before in Shetland in this format. I think that will bring more footfall into the street, and hopefully some of the social media critics who don’t come to the town centre might come for noodles and take time to realise all the other things we have!”

That is not all that is on the menu at Da Street, though. Nordsterna Crystal Boutique also arrives as a one-of-a-kind shop in our beautiful town centre.

“Ian is extremely passionate about his merchandise and designs it all himself, for it to be made in the traditional way, by hand, by masters of the craft. While crystal is perhaps not an everyday purchase for most folk, the pieces Ian sells are heirloom items and by inviting folk in to see and handle the pieces, rather than hide them behind glass, people will be able to appreciate it more.”

The Bounce Back

As restrictions continued to ease, we saw our shops being allowed to open their doors again to customers, albeit with restrictions on numbers, distancing marked out on floors and one-way systems. The worry would remain though that the loyal local shoppers would be reluctant to return to the new normal with the coronavirus still rife throughout Scotland.

However, for those that Emma has had discussions with on the street, that has not been the case. The response from the public to shopping with local businesses has generally been positive with Shetlanders having an admiration for so many of the businesses going above and beyond any reasonable expectations to keep the Shetland public supplied with goods and services during lockdown.

“My own opinion is that there was a definite recognition of that when shops reopened that local footfall on the street was definitely higher than it might have been pre-covid. It is never going to be 100% of local folk using local businesses as so many people choose the convenience of shopping online rather than the personal experience of dealing with another human and every week is different to the last in terms of trade at the street.”

Emma believes the shops, cafes, bars and service providers have been exceptional in doing what they can to maximise customer confidence and safety.

And you do not need to go very far from our own base here at Bank Lane to see that too, whether it is through Social Media or a small wander; it is clear.

The reassurance that shops have adapted with new shop layouts, installation of screens, provision of hand sanitizer and numerous other measures has brought people to the shops. Shop owners and their teams have been consistent in their message that they are taking every precaution and that has been met with a confidence to return to shops for many.

Peerie Shop Changes

Living Lerwick have also continued delivering an ongoing marketing campaign reminding the Shetland public to Think Local First. This has been a message they have emphasised through online, radio and print with local media.

“One thing I see so often read is people on social media saying there is nothing at the street. This can only be the opinion of people who haven’t been anywhere near the street as there is plenty here! We have 144 businesses in the town centre area alone from the Queens Hotel to Cee & Jays.

“For a population of 22,000 Shetland’s main high street offers an incredible range of goods and services, the likes which would not be found in any other geographical district serving the same number of people.”

Living Lerwick have also installed a large-scale map at Don Leslie’s that shows off every one of the 144 businesses at the street. They would also go onto run a Spend at Da Street campaign, with 23 of the shops and businesses signing up. It proved to be a success and extremely popular among shoppers.

“We are already planning this next one as it proved very successful. I hope to get more businesses involved with the next one, with more prizes. The first one was a bit of an experiment to gauge if people would be interested, and they certainly were!”

Do you have a local hero, organisation or business that has shone through as a highlight during the pandemic? Get in touch with us and we can celebrate them in a feature here on TeamShetland.