Business owner says 'Inverness city should be first and foremost be for locals'
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The owner of an Inverness art gallery, which has been open for 22 years, has spoken about the long-term impact Covid has had on business.
Castle Gallery is nestled in Castle Street and used to be home to many regular customers who worked in the city centre, meaning its customer base was 85 per cent locals.
However, since the pandemic, people have changed to home working and hybrid working – alongside the Highland Council offices moving out of Inverness Town House, and the court no longer being based at Inverness Castle – its customer base has completely changed.
Speaking about the changes, Castle Gallery owner Denise Collins said: "Up until before Covid most of our customers were Inverness based or lived within a 40-mile radius.
"We got lots of people who worked in town from the council offices and the solicitors from their offices. They'd be in here on their lunch hours, looking around, buying gifts and presents.
"But since Covid a lot of them don't work in the city centre and we've lost a whole swathe of local customers as they don't come in on a Saturday either. I assume they go elsewhere and aren't using the city centre anymore.
"With the redevelopment of the castle – which is a good thing – and the redeployment of their staff it means loyal customers for over 20 years have gone too.
"I miss the locals. I've known them since the day we've opened. It's a shame you lose contact with people you've had for a long time."
However, although these customers are no longer coming into town, there has been a change in how people shop, with Castle Gallery now selling more from its online shop.
Ms Collins said: "I worked full-time during Covid to get a website up and running that people could shop from and we've had a lot of people using it.
"We send out our products to the Black Isle and places not so far away as people aren't coming into town so much anymore. We're also now reaching people worldwide, shipping to places like America and Australia."
Tourists that come into the store have increased by around 15 per cent, and although this is good for business, Ms Collins doesn't want to cater for the tourist and wants to ensure that the city centre is for Invernessians.
She said: "Our locals have been replaced with visitors, but what we don't do is cater for the tourist. We display and stock what we believe in from an artistic background.
"If the city centre just turns itself over to tourists, and we get more and more hotels built, more and more bars and tourist shops with tat made abroad, it's going to be a really sad city.
"I hear it all the time from locals that they don't come into the city centre now as they say there is nothing for them. Inverness city should be for locals first and foremost.
"Having local housing in the city centre is one way of doing it. Having local independent shops, run by local people, for local people gives personal customer service. Councillors and the powers that be need to encourage local shops to come in."
Castle Gallery will be hosting its annual 'Mulled Wine' day tomorrow, which is open to everyone, and will be a chance for the the community to meet.
She added: "Since we opened we've always done a day of mulled wine to say thank you to our customers. We have homemade Christmas cake, and other festive treats! It's always our busiest day of the year."
The event is on from 10am-5pm.