When I was a teenager, my friends and I would always make the trip east towards the Trongate when we came into town on a Saturday. We’d check out a small army surplus store on the Trongate for old army jackets which were every alternative kid’s winter jacket of choice, Record Fayre for CDs and those black hoodies with your favourite band logo on them, then we’d all head up to 23 Enigma on High Street. We loved checking these shops out week after week. The big, mainstream shops of the town centre held no interest for us and were just that; mainstream. We didn’t identify with what they were selling and didn’t want to. We wanted to express our own voice and these were the shops that provided an alternative so we could do so.
Walking past Glasgow Cross with the flags
I have good memories of this part of town, from my Mum bringing me into town when I was younger and taking me to The Big Top, seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers play at Glasgow Green (probably whilst wearing my RHCP hoodie that I had bought from Record Fayre), and watching the amazing kinetic sculpture shows at Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. When the time came to start looking for a shop unit for The Queen of Purls this wasn’t an area that immediately stood out to me though. The area has had its problems and has a lingering reputation as a bad area of town. It is also rich in history, being the heart of Glasgow where Glasgow was originally formed. There are regular world class events being held at Glasgow Green; the 2014 Commonwealth Games were hosted there and the World Pipe Band Championships is a regular every year. These are events that attract people from all over the world and there is no shortage of things to do and see in the area when they visit. It has good public transport access and it’s walking distance from the centre of town; all important points to consider when opening up a shop! The more I visited units in this area, the more I remembered how much I enjoyed coming to this part of town. If you look into the history of the Saltmarket you’ll find it was originally named Waulcergait as it was known for wool production. It was when merchants in the street started selling salt for curing salmon that it was renamed Saltmarket. Eventually, I opened my shop here.
Group shot at Glasgow Cross
Despite all this, there is one question that people keep asking. Where are all the businesses? If you’ve been to the shop you may have noticed many a vacant shop unit in the area. The shop units available here are all owned by the council. When I was looking for my shop there were a few units in the area, but not all of the shops lying empty were being advertised. Three and a half years into my lease they have still not been advertised as being up for rent. I’ve had people from several organisations come into my shop asking for ideas on how to fix this and plenty of ideas have been put forward. The council has been approached with ideas, but they all seem to be rejected. It seems they are happier getting no rent than letting people have a shot at building a successful business. Businesses in the area are being hit with the charges for historic repairs to the buildings they set up shop in. I myself was expected to pay a VERY large sum of money upon signing my lease for repairs to the building that had absolutely nothing to do with my yet to be realised business, but because of the type of lease you sign as a business owner, I would have been liable for them. News stories are being published about historic buildings that are in line to be demolished to make way for student housing. There’s something not right going on here and none of the businesses that have been asking what’s going on are getting any clear answers. What council would want a historically rich part of their city to remain vacant from business?
Another group photo opp at the Mclennan Arch in Glasgow green
This area could and should be what it once was. Thriving small businesses that offer a shopping alternative to the big and often mundane businesses of the City Centre and help create a sense of community. Small, independent businesses bring life and soul into communities. They are often run by people who live in the community themselves. They offer something different, something more ethical, they give back to their communities and they provide colour, texture and narrative in a world of banal mega stores designed to blend in and purposefully not be different.
The exhibition of Flags being set up in the Briggait
I’m not the only person who feels this way and was absolutely delighted to take part in the High Street & Saltmarket: Past, Present, Possible event organised by WAVEparticle on the 22nd of July. This event celebrated the past history of High Street and Saltmarket, the present day lives of residents and retailers and looked to the possible future of the area. The team at WAVEparticle made one hundred and one flags and standards which were flown during the Merchant City Festival Carnival procession. Each one had an image that represented the businesses on the High Street and Saltmarket and the history of the area. The Queen of Purls was represented by a ram! After the carnival had passed, we walked down High Street and Saltmarket towards the Briggait with flags flying and gave cheers to each business we passed on the way that was involved with the parade. It was a real boost to morale to hear everyone cheering for the businesses we passed. It gave a sense of pride to those who have made High Street and Saltmarket their home. When we reached the Briggait we listened to a presentation from the Scottish Civic Trust on the history of the area and were all treated to lunch. Around us, the WAVEparticle team was quickly setting up a pop-up exhibition of the flags.
Listening to the talk by the Scottish Civic Trust
The enthusiasm the WAVEparticle team brought to the event was much needed. For some businesses there have been years of struggle and dealing with a council who doesn’t seem to care about the residents or the businesses here. It was nice working with people who genuinely do care. It was exciting and invigorating seeing and being part of a project that actually came to fruition, especially one where every member of the community was included and invited to participate. It is roots movements like these that make a difference for people in the area and attract those from out with. I hope this was the first of many celebrations of life on the oldest line in Glasgow and that it can once again thrive as a shopping destination as it used to. Residents should feel proud to live on these streets and potential business owners and start ups should find it a desirable area to open a business, as I did when I signed the lease for 91 Saltmarket.
Sean, one of the WAVEparticle team standing next to one of the flag exhibits