As COVID rules ease, Perth city center is still reeling from months of closures and restrictions. In a series of special reports, the PA is looking at how the Fair City’s retail and hospitality sector is recovering from the impact of the pandemic and what the future holds for our high street…
A Perth photo store that closed after 40 years has been given a new lease of life by a dedicated local customer.
And professional photographer Shaun Ward, who took over the business, says the Scott Street outlet has been in high demand after bouncing back from COVID restrictions.
Previously run as JRS Photo Hardware, in December former owner Alister Walker announced he would step down “with great regret” after 20 years when the lease was up due to health reasons.
The store closed on Christmas Eve having been severely affected by COVID and “two disastrous lockdowns” but was handed a festive miracle when local snapper Shaun (53) stepped in.
Shaun undertook an extensive renovation inside the newly-rebranded Perth Photo Lab including the removal of high-end cameras and equipment from its stock.
Shaun, who has lived most of his life in Perth, explained: “I am a photographer and have been for 30-odd years.
“I often do school and universities and I used this place often for quick prints.
“Then when Alister said he was closing down the shop that is when I thought I had to come up with a solution.
“The process to take it over started in early December and by the twenty-third, I had signed the contract.
“It was pretty hectic.
“But I was quite excited because I knew what I wanted to do and what was here before.
“I had not previously run a shop.
“Then I spent two weeks to change the place and move things about.
“We used to sell camera equipment but we stopped that because it wasn’t viable.
“We have a lab side as well and we try to promote that for quality pictures and for photographers to use.
“It was a better choice to keep the lab equipment side and move things around.
“I kept the same employees and have one part-time member of staff and one-full time and then myself.
“It has been a learning experience. Sam and Gordon have helped me enormously with their experience.
“The way forward for Perth shops is to find your niche and find out what people want and need.
“We have had a lot of good feedback.”
Shaun revealed that the increase in the number of people looking to go abroad has been seen in demand for passport pictures skyrocket.
“The passport pictures surprised me with how many we were getting through,” he said.
“It is increasing and we do roughly 130 passports a week if not more. It is crazy figures.
“It is our main income at the moment and is 50 per cent of it.
“Film photography has also come back a bit.
“It is so hard to buy film these days and we don’t sell cameras but we sell reusable film cameras.
“Polaroid cameras sell and a lot of the younger kids are into that.
“It has come back to people wanting to print their own stuff.
“People are bored with keeping pictures on their phone or the computer now.”
Shaun feels keeping the photo lab open will serve not just the people of Perth but those living further afield.
“In Perth and Kinross it is probably just us as I can’t think off the top of my head of there being another photo lab like us,” he said.
“We get people coming down from Pitlochry to the store so I don’t think there is anything between there and here.
“Many people do this sort of thing online these days but for the photo lab side more and more people are coming to us.
“The idea is to keep the old fashioned store front going. It has worked out okay so far.”
Shaun has lived most of his life in Perth and has seen how it has changed over the past four decades, especially now considering the number of units left empty due to the pandemic.
“You are starting to see a clutch of shops doing okay at the moment – they go through cycles,” I explained.
“On the St Paul’s side that is what the High Street used to be like. Then the 1980s boom came and the shopping center came and the big stores came in.
“We had a lot of independent shops on the High Street and then rent cost too much for local businesses and then they moved out.
“Which is why we are in this position now.
“I also think Perth misses the point at times in terms of trying to be too big and compete with Stirling and places like that.
“My personal opinion is to change many of the bigger units into flats to bring more people into the city center and then build the shops around that.
“Like the plans at Lakeland.
“If the council could work with house developers and look at making the ground floor of the big units into retail and the upper floors flats.
“So if you are a coffee shop or a shoe shop and people live above you they are likely to go to you first before they go anywhere else.”
Shaun feels unsure whether the Perth City Hall project will have the desired boost for local businesses.
“I think some of the issues are they are trying to push for city status,” I explained.
“They seem to want to appeal to people outside of Perth instead of people inside Perth at times.
“My argument for the Perth City Hall project is if you kept the front of the building and behind it you make it a big open space where you could put farmers markets.
“But they are going to put a stone [Stone of Destiny] in it and how many people in Perth are going to go in and see that?
“You go once – are you going to go again?
“People won’t just come to Perth because of that.”
He concluded: “There is a strong community with the shops in Perth and Facebook groups trying to perk Perth up.
“I think the spending itself is going to be hit with the gas and electricity going up.
“How many people spend and are cutting back, if they are going to go on holiday are they going to need their passports as much?
“But we are still providing a valuable service to Perth because it stops people leaving to go elsewhere.”