NEW life is being breathed into the struggling Old Town of Inverness with the opening of a shop unit accommodating up to 11 small, specialist businesses.
The Village has opened in the former Toymaster’s store in Union Street and will see the traders sharing costs in a six-month experiment.
It is the brainchild of Ruth Oulton and Dave Lynch, who have taken on the lease and hope to attract businesses that would otherwise not be able to afford high city centre rents.
"The idea is to turn it into a market place with a variety of different trades," said 44-year-old Miss Oulton.
"The rent in the town centre is prohibitive for small businesses. We want to give these businesses the opportunity to at least get started within Inverness."
Already trading in the building are the Creative Skate Store, Vintage@Inverness, selling retro clothes, and record shop Village Vinyl. Due to open soon is The Therapy Room, offering massages and treatments, plus an independent cake maker.
Another seven spaces are available for small businesses.
"The benefit to small businesses is that they are not tied to a long lease and they get heating and lighting," said Mr Lynch. "They know how much it will cost them."
Chris Wilson (20) and James King (24), who own Creative Skates, have moved their business from the city’s Muirtown Lock.
"Its a great project to get involved with as it’s all of the independent businesses standing together against the corporate businesses which are opening up everywhere," said Mr Wilson.
"People think it’s fantastic and people have been saying ‘It’s just what Inverness needs’ so it’s good to know people think that.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old fashion graduate, Eilidh Stimpson, an intern with The Village, said the unit was giving her the chance to sell her own designs which she otherwise would not be able to do.
"I think as a young person from Inverness, it’s so exciting because there is nothing like this in our area, there is the Victorian Market but this is different and it will give the city a more creative feel," she said.
She has already had a celebrity visitor in the shape of Aggie from the Channel 4 programme "How Clean is Your House".
"I was cleaning the window of the shop and I saw Aggie and I thought I’d better make a good job of it, then she came in a tried one of my dresses on I made and she bought it," she said.
"Aggie said she will wear my dress on TV."
The Village has its official opening on 1st December and although the lease is for six months initially, it could be extended to five years if successful.
Manager of Inverness Business Improvement District, Mike Smith, welcomed the venture.
"I’m delighted to see this innovative shop in Union Street, he said. "It’s a new approach to the development of a large unit and we hope it will be a great success.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, described it as a "very positive development".
"It’s good to see a vacant unit back in use and it’s a very innovative business model they have got," he said. "Obviously it will bring some life into the Old Town and increase footfall for other businesses."