Glasgow Then and Now

How has your high street changed?

Use our sliders to explore Glasgow’s high streets and discover how they’ve changed

Take a walk down any of the country’s high streets recently and it’s difficult to fail to notice the pace of change. From new stores opening to old favourites closing down, nowhere feels the impact of modernisation quite like the high street.

But is a changing high street really all bad news for local retailers? What does this really mean and how can you keep your business relevant in the face of change?

We’re taking a look into the past of some of the UK’s busiest shopping destinations to pull out some lessons history can teach us about staying the course in retail. Here, we’re digging into the dear green place: Glasgow.

As well as being the second largest retail centre in the UK, Glasgow has also been voted the most friendly city in the world. New urban renewal projects have revitalised the city centre, making Scotland’s second city an attractive place to set up shop.

Use the sliders to compare and contrast Glasgow’s streets then and now.

Argyle Street

Changing Glasgow Retail shops
Changing Glasgow Retail shops

Running a lengthy 2.1 miles from Trongate in the east all the way to Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow’s west end, Argyle Street is the longest street in Glasgow. The rattling trams in this part of town have been replaced by a smooth subway system and buses; similarly, while many of the shops here have changed hands, names and branding, they still offer very similar services as their former counterparts.

The long-established Lewis’s department store may have closed its doors, but it’s been replaced by another department store, Debenhams. This is backed by the recently revamped St Enoch Centre, a modern shopping centre with a wide range of stores and facilities. It seems people in this bustling part of Glasgow are still looking to find almost everything they need under one roof, so it’s worth considering what you can do to make your business as one-stop a shop as appropriate to keep visitors coming back.

But while many of the shops you’ll find on Argyle Street are the same as the ones you’ll find on many high streets across the country, independent and specialist jewellers still flourish along Argyll Arcade. Built in 1827 as Scotland’s first covered shopping mall, this picturesque link between Argyle and Buchanan streets is still going strong today. If you’re lucky enough to be located in an area with a reputation for a particular product, it’s often a smart business move to promote and build upon that expertise as much as possible. Whether preserved in its original state or adapted to new tastes and trends, history and a strong identity are often a strong draw for shoppers.

Buchanan Street

Changing Glasgow Retail shops
Changing Glasgow Retail shops

The centrepiece of Glasgow’s style mile, Buchanan Street runs both literally and figuratively to the top of the town. From its peak, beside the recently refurbished Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, it’s easy to see how the street has come to represent the best of modern shopping districts.

Enduring Scottish icons like House of Fraser and James Pringle have been joined by contemporary global juggernauts like Apple, Topshop and AllSaints. Fittingly, the traditional architecture has been updated with modern twists like the stunning metal sculptures adorning the Princes Square shopping centre.

Perhaps the biggest change on Buchanan Street, however, is its shift of focus from individual stores to the shopping experience as a whole. As well as the pedestrianisation of the entire street in 1978, there was the addition of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in 1990 and the more recent arrival of an array of street performers plying their trade beneath the bold pink ‘People Make Glasgow’ signs.

Part of the reason Buchanan Street has remained such a popular destination (aside from its convenient location in the heart of the city, close to transport links) is its careful construction of a pleasant shopping experience. Think about what you can do to fit in with the area your business is located in and how you can add to the general retail experience.

Union Street

Changing Glasgow Retail shops
Changing Glasgow Retail shops

Union Street is a fitting name for a thoroughfare that’s long served as a transport hub for Glasgow's residents. Flanked on much of its west side by the historic Glasgow Central Station, the street was once home to several tram routes which have since been replaced by buses. These services have provided continuity for local stores by delivering their commuter customers from around the city for over 135 years.

But it’s not just the people that have passed through – stores here have changed, too. Commuters can still pick up a paper from one of several traditional newsagents, but they’ve been joined by other convenience stores ranging from fast food outlets to small supermarkets, reflecting the change in how people shop for their food.

Union Street has also become the surprising home for other shopping trends. Still evident today are some of the technology and entertainment shops that dominated in the 90s, including Game and Cex, but slowly growing in number are its vape stores. With four on Union Street at the last count, could the road be about to reinvent itself yet again as the home of this post-smoking craze? Or perhaps even bring back a new version of the tobacconists that once appeared around its transport hubs?

A consistent takeaway from successful retailers is to think about the kind of passing business you’re likely to attract; people in a hurry on their way to catch a train are likely to be after convenience and last-minute or impulse purchases.

Shop insurance that stands the test of time

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