On Kirkcaldy High Street

When I grew up in Fife in the 70s and 80s, Kirkcaldy was top dog amongst the local towns. Even then, it was not quite what it had once been as the coal and linoleum industries had faded. Nonetheless, with its distinctive, imposing Victorian stone buildings and sense of dour permanence it was a place we visited regularly, in a time when no-one in Kirkcaldy would have given a second thought to visiting the upstart new town where I lived.

We went for occasions. The cinema, the annual Fair, pantomime at the Adam Smith theatre.

And yes, some of those occasions were shopping related. It was in Kirkcaldy that I stood, bored witless in BHS whilst my mum shopped.

Kirkcaldy was where you would go to visit an actual book shop. For a while, a musical instrument shop in one of the back streets was mecca for any of us with rock guitar fantasies, although it was frustratingly full of people who could really play.

These days, it is fair to say that Kirkcaldy’s grandeur is faded. The M&S has gone. The Debenhams closes any day now. The High Street wears its vacancies like gaps in a row of teeth, and the smaller units are more and more a cavalcade of charity shops and outreach centres.

In this, the town shares the same fate as many up and down the country. The story is familiar. Economic hardships, low hours contracts and the death of old industries mean there is less money and less confidence about. High rents and rates and the constrictor-squeeze of the internet giants mean retailers slip away. Kirkcaldy became a poster child for this decline when an entire shopping centre just yards from the High Street went up for sale last year with a £1 reserve price.

I made a passing reference to the town in a piece a month or so ago, pointing out that if you only do store visits in London, a trip to Kirkcaldy was likely to be a shock to the system. As I wrote it, though, I realised that it was a few years since I’d walked that street myself, and so just before Christmas I went back.

I found plenty that I expected. Signs of poverty abound. That shopping centre (which sold in the end for £310k) remains in a near-death state with only 2 or 3 units occupied. There is something genuinely eerie about walking through a largely unoccupied centre, more zombie apocalypse than retail apocalypse.

The Postings – zombie shopping centre.

But I also found something I really didn’t expect. Because throughout the town there are signs of hope, and evidence of the local community fighting hard to retain the intangible importance of a strong town centre.

There are popups and independent stores galore including a farm shop and even a couple of coffee shops cocking a snook at the Costa opposite.

There is a covered market, of a sort, and market stalls popping up outside (and sometimes inside) the empty stores. Check the press coverage and it is clear the town authorities are trying their best to encourage new retail business, taking sensible looking action on parking charges and investing in infrastructure.

So is all going to be well for the community in Kirkcaldy? Not necessarily.

There is plenty that still needs to go right. The High Street still needs those big anchor brands. Not only has it lost M&S and Debenhams, but the venerable department store along the street looks vulnerable too.

There is also more that could be done in partnership between the council, landlords and tenants. The market could be made into something much more enticing; pop-up stores could fill gaps and, in an ideal world, gradually the mix of charity stores would be reduced a little.

There might be no helping the £1 shopping centre now, but repurposing it into flats and offices could indirectly support the reinvention of the High Street itself by boosting the local economy.

Talk to anyone expert in this kind of reinvention and they will tell you that it is very hard indeed. Bringing all the interested parties together is like herding cats at the best of times, and planning laws and council powers are rarely enough to allow the positive intervention a dying high street needs. It is here that government can help – towns like Kirkcaldy don’t need token central government investment, they need laws and processes changed so that obvious, sensible active management of the high street can happen more quickly.

That’s easier said than done. Give local authorities much greater planning powers to determine the type of shops, rents and lease terms that their High Street needs and you risk killing off the commercial property market altogether. Balance, and careful thought will be needed to get the formula right.

But talk to determined local retailers like the frustrated, passionate and business-savvy employees of Debenhams, angry at the avoidable end of a great brand and you sense the energy that could be put to work rebuilding.

We are a stubborn lot, us Fifers. Kirkcaldy is not done yet.

13 thoughts on “On Kirkcaldy High Street”

  1. I also remember when Kirkcaldy was a thriving little town and I’m saddened by the decline. I’m opposed to the money being spent on the promenade/sea front. It doesn’t make sense to me. We shall have to wait and see. As for the old Postings it’s a disgrace no shops yet is it because the rents and taxes are too high, it’s a mystery to me.
    I enjoyed reading your article.

      1. Ian I grew up in Kirkcaldy all my days and Fife Council murdered our high street

        Councilors treated it like a cash cow and priced shops out of business and priced shoppers with exorbitant parking charges

        Glenrothes has a brighter future

        Undercover and free parking

      2. Yes….
        It is more than a little crazy that the rental prices are so high that many units remain vacant.
        Im a Fifer through and through and can well remember the ” Big 3″ as i recall…
        Littlewoods.
        BHS.
        M and S.
        So sad all have gone…
        Edwin Domaldsons, Sleeves, even the butcher with sawdust on the floor….always a que out the shop.
        Sad times all around….its a shame the High Street…once a mighty sight…has been reduced to the state its in.
        More could and should be done to bring back some purpose to peoples lifes with a High Stree5 worth visiting.

      3. I also born and bread in kdy
        it’s a sad day it’s like the cemetery
        why not just give it a head stone RIP town center.
        but the council would be looking for you to pay that too.
        fat cats that’s all they are

  2. I too also remember kdy high st in its heyday. As a child born in the 50’s I grew up with the shopping trips with the family, if I was good, I got a toy, and the high tea at the Green Cockatoo was the highlight of the day out. I remember the trips to the Links market as a teenager, trying to be the Brad Pitt of my day but forever failing to impress at all. The prom forever flooding. Yes, kdy high st at that time was a better competitor to Dunfermline, on your doorstep, easy access, plenty of choice shopping wise. So, aye it’s sad with the decline that needs forward thinking to reverse the negative trend.

  3. Great article, stating how it is. I remember folk coming from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee to shop in Kirkcaldy! It was one of the best with many local retailers before rents and rates forced so many to shut shop and jobs disappeared. Lived here for over 60 years and it’s so sad to see what’s happened.
    Agree with Roberta Stride about the Esplanade – what’s the point when there are hardly any shops for people, another waste of money.

  4. I grew up in kdy, remember back in the late 60,s you could hardly walk in a straight line along the High Street on a Saturday, it was always mobbed, like the whole of Fife and beyond were out shopping.
    Over the decades, Fife Council, in their quest to generate more rate income, approved planning applications for Asda, Sainsbury, Retail Park, Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi etc. etc.
    Now, why pay to park to shop at the few stores that are left.
    Fife Council suggest we use public transport to use the High Street but if I was able to do a large food shop or purchase a bulky item, what fun trying to get back up to the Bus Station.
    Long gone are the days, even when the High Street was heaving, that buses went along the High Street.

  5. I did see a busy kdy town one time and that the postings as like a second merkat shopping centre where people would come and to from the bus station but after most and nearly all the shops have closed there are only 3 left plus the music guy and the womn who does eyes and face stuff i am staggerd how these companies hve survived such high rents i know frmfoods is alays popular becuse its so cheap but they still survive and boots i am surprised thats still open everytime i go past theres no one in it and i also know that stephens is closing too so there will be 1 more closed its really sad then theres tescos with alot of stuff in it make that into a drop in centre for the homeless or a charity shop like furniture pluss now that would be an idea

  6. Kirkcaldy is a dump and has been a dump for decades.
    Antiquated traffic light system. Streets filthy. Not a decent shop in town.
    Embarrassing is what it is!

  7. I remember the good times of Kirkcaldy in the 70s and 80s. I’d go and buy records every weekend at Sleeves record shop, visit the bookshop for an hour and occasionally buy a book and had my first proper romantic date at the ABC cinema.
    I remember the Safeway that my Mum would always drag me around to buy groceries and we’d take them in brown paper bags to the car.
    As a teenager there were plenty of good pubs with live bands playing and the nightclubs served their purpose in getting folk out on the town after a hard week of work.
    The High Street is a sad reflection of its former self.
    Your article however has a glimmer of hope and I wonder how the refurbishment of the old cinema/ theatre is progressing?

  8. Ian I loved your article, it was spot on. I’m from Kirkcaldy myself but have been living in Glasgow for the past 3 years, every time I come through to see family, the high street just seems to get worse. I totally agree with everyone’s comments. I used to love going down the high street on a Saturday with my pals, it was always buzzing. It is truly sad. Good on Louise Canny (from Eloise) & everyone else involved, bringing the artisan market on Fridays. It’s definitely a good idea thing, I just hope Fife Council realises just what they’ve done. They really need to get their act together like!
    #savekirkcaldyhighstreet

  9. Great article. I was from Dundonald (born 68) so knew Kirkcaldy really well. I’ve lived London for 30 years but still went back occasionally. I went back in January and so went to Kirkcaldy on a damp Saturday for the first time in a few years. Needless to say I was shocked. But more than shocked, I felt let down. It seemed half the shops are empty, and the ones that remained I had no interest in. The Mercat was embarrassing. I also noted the pool has gone and is just rubble now. I didn’t have the heart to go to the Postings (is it still called that?). I left and remember thinking this is probably the last time I will ever go to Kirkcaldy High Street.

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