Winter festival livened the street and boosted trade, say retailers

Shopkeepers and café owners reported brisk trade as an “unbelievable” number of people crammed onto Commercial Street in Lerwick for Shetland’s first Winter Festival.

The event brightened the fading winter afternoon on Saturday with a procession by the Jarl’s Squad, carols played by Lerwick Brass Band and the switching on of the town centre’s Christmas lights.

Santa was there too, walking in front of the vintage car provided for him, ringing his bell and having his helpers give out sweeties.
Shopkeepers reported the street as being packed, with no parking available anywhere nearer than King Harald Street.

Harry Jamieson of Harry’s Department Store is chairman of Living Lerwick Ltd, which organised the event. He said: “It was really first class, the most folk I’ve ever seen on the street, more than Up-Helly-A’, it was unbelievable. Peerie Foxes [nursery] switched on the lights, they went on section by section, it was a really good atmosphere. The idea was to create a nice atmosphere for people to come and shop.”

He was: “chuffed” with the “brilliant” first festival, which Living Lerwick co-ordinator Christena Irvine said would be built on year by year.

The street looked really good, Mr Jamieson said, with shops boasting mini Christmas trees, provided by Living Lerwick and decorated by  shopkeepers, rather than one big tree traditionally put up by the council at the Market Cross.

Alister Smith and Neil Anderson of R. W. Bayes jokingly festooned their Christmas tree with laminated cut-out images of Harry’s face. Mr Smith said: “It was fun, and Harry gave us the thumbs-up. I’m looking forward to the roasted chestnuts.”

Although they did not get a huge boost in sales, Mr Anderson added: “It shows folk there are still shops in the street and not just at Sound.”

Saturday’s procession wended its way from the street’s south end to the Fort area, where the crowds turned round. Many decided it was time for a bar of chocolate or a sweetie at Universal Stores. “The Saturday girls got a shock,” said the staff.

Fine Peerie Cakes proprietor Sherl MacLennan said that by the afternoon: “Absolutely everything was gone. It was really good so many people came out. They were still coming in at 5.30pm but we had nothing to give them except tea. It was really good and it boosted our earnings.”
Next door Edna Irvine of clothes shop Smith & Robertson was busy too. She thought the festival was a good thing: “We all put into it financially and it brought the shopkeepers together, it gave us a sense of doing things together.
“Decorating the trees has given shopkeepers a sense of pride in the street and makes it more appealing for the public to spend time here, and it’s something that will be built on.”

But it was the cafes that probably benefited most.

Oslas was “hectic”, said manager Mary Taylor. There was a lull during the procession, but before and afterwards hot chocolate, cappucinos and meals went down well. Would she like another festival next year? “Of course.”
The Peerie Cafe’s Amy Slater said: “We were absolutely mobbed, it was really good, it was really difficult for people to get seats. There were people everywhere.”

Folk took the chance to do some Christmas shopping too. Westside Pine was busy and proprietor Janet Davidge said: “It was good to see so many people and hear them say what a great atmosphere it was on the street.”

Jewellers J.G. Rae was bustling, and the shop’s Heather Fisher deemed Saturday’s event a great success. “There’s no doubt about it,” she said. “I never got to the front door to see the parade, but certainly there were a lot of new faces in the shop and the atmosphere was brilliant. The weather was perfect, everywhere else was flooded but I think Shetland was the only place where the sun came out.”

Summing up the festival, she said: “There was a lot of work put into it and gives the place a bit of a buzz. It can be a dreary time of year for Shetland and this was a great idea and worked well, and something [we should repeat] for next year.”
As for the trees: “They’re going to be recycled, and used next year, it’s a brilliant idea.”


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