HELENSBURGH'S independent retailers are facing a 'perfect storm' of increasing costs, a weak economy and rising bills, shopkeepers and business leaders have warned.

But the town's small shops can still face the challenges head-on - if there's a coherent plan to persuade both local residents and visitors of the benefits of shopping locally.


Wendy Hamilton, the Federation of Small Businesses' representative in Helensburgh, and Helensburgh Central councillor Fiona Howard, have both spoken to the Advertiser after the recent closure of neighbouring businesses Amaryllis Living and Vanity Fair.

The changing face of retail in the town centre has been added to in the last few weeks with the sale of the Nature's Harvest greengrocer's shop in West Princes Street to new owners.

Adding to the sense of change is a report prepared on behalf of Argyll and Bute Council, published at the end of January, which recommended selling off the town's vacant waterfront development site for retail use to help the town become self-sufficient.

Colliers International Property Consultants, said the "discount and food store sectors" could be "easily integrated into the waterfront site".

But Vivien Dance, from the Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, writing in the Advertiser last week, warned against gifting the land to a major retail for some quick cash.

Helensburgh Advertiser:

She said the chamber's previous audit of the town found that the "town centre is diverse and the retail offering is strong, particularly for a town of its size”.

Ms Dance said: "The [Argyll & Bute Council Colliers study] is an analytical document prepared by Colliers to a given remit of proving that what Helensburgh really needs to save it from total decline is a 2,500 square metres retail building on the seafront housing suggested companies like B&M.

"Colliers’ 90 pages of analytics concentrates on spending patterns, but fails to even consider any of the more complex reasons why customers spend in a town of their choosing.

"Helensburgh is much more than its 'convenience goods expenditure pattern' and for the town’s sake I hope the decision makers remember this."

Dr Hamilton said there were certainly challenges facing the town, but also opportunities - as long as the town centre has a "robust plan" to ensure shops and eateries can thrive.

"We need a cohesive approach ensuring the retail offering in the town meets the needs of the residents," she said, "whilst also persuading the residents that supporting their local town is critical.

Helensburgh Advertiser:

"If Helensburgh continues to lose businesses, it will quickly lose its desirability as a place to live.

"We need engagement from the council, and a recognition from government that town centres need investment and support.

"It's also time to encourage government to reconsider the efficacy of full repairing leases and their alignment with the welfare of our towns.

"Landlords must acknowledge their role in maintaining and preserving the town's properties, rather than burdening small businesses with often crippling structural repair costs."

Labour councillor Fiona Howard, who represents the Helensburgh Central ward, told the Advertiser that it was clear retail in the town "runs in cycles".

"Every few years a number of ships close down and remain empty for a while before the cycle begins again," she said.

"But in recent years the cycle is happening with increased regularity. And that is not good.

"Times a really tough in retail following on from Covid and the cost-of-living crisis and the little shops which give Helensburgh is charm are the most vulnerable, especially those whose stock is more niche and does not include day-to-day essentials.

"Things like business rates and rents are in the hands of the government and landlords.

"But the main thing that can be done to help our small businesses is for the people in Helensburgh and Lomond to think before they buy online or travel out of the area to shop and instead make sure they Shop Local and provide the support our retailers need and indeed deserve.

"We are lucky to have the selection of independent and innovative businesses on our doorsteps let's all help to secure their future."