Our recent visit to Orkney was not meant to be about retailing or shops, but inevitably just wandering around Stromness and Kirkwall one can’t help but look at the retailing. As I noted in the earlier blog, the overwhelming sense I got was of a busy sector with limited vacancies and a dominance of independent businesses. There are some of the usual chains but it was notable how many stores were local and independent. I appreciate this is a snapshot of early summer/late spring, but it was encouraging.
What was also interesting was the historical aspect to both towns. Both Stromness and Kirkwall have distinctive urban plans and hold the interest accordingly. They are full of vennels, gunnels and other cut-throughs and the main street is both pedestrianised and with car access (though speed limited due to its nature which enables dual use). It is an interesting mix which the council has worked hard to protect, preserve and promote. I was interested that just after we left Orkney, the council won a major award (the RTPI Silver Jubilee Cup) for their work on the townscape of Stromness. It did not surprise me.
One of the delights was looking for ghostsigns in the current fabric and there were plenty to choose from. In many cases, as shown below, these were interesting but perhaps run of the mill. Nice tiles and old name boards etc. but nothing that is too out of the ordinary.
However one store really caught the eye. The initial impact comes from the tiled doorway entrance and the fascia mosaics, which have been partially, and unsuccessfully obscured. This is Fugaccia’s and a quick inspection beyond the door points to the floor and steps also being original and in place. The store is currently a clothing and knitwear store, but clearly has had a different history.
The staff member inside readily acceded to me asking to take photographs and indeed said that lots of people seemed to want to photograph the floor! On the wall inside the shop was the announcement of what Fugaccia’s was originally – The Stromness Soda Fountain, claimed to be ‘one of the finest soda fountains open in Scotland’. A little more can be gleaned here. Whilst not in its original usage, it is good to see that the design and quality of the original store is retained. It is simply gorgeous; just a shame about the “vandalism” of the mosaic fascias.
And I leave with another store front, this time the Post Office in Kirkwall from 1960. The doorway and lintel just speaks of heritage and confidence and is in stark contrast to modern day post offices and shops. Where did we lose the desire to design nice things?