Albert Street is very much at the heart of Kirkwall. It’s the definition of a town centre - busy, bustling and full of fantastic shops and beautiful buildings.
It’s a real hive of activity on days when cruise ships arrive in the islands too. Local folk mix with tour groups being shown the sites and passengers making their own way through the town.
Right at the top of the street sits the newly refurbished Aurora Jewellery store. The business moved from its Bridge Street premises to its current home in 2011, and it has continued to go from strength to strength ever since.
‘When we started we mainly just sold to other shops in the jewellery trade,’ said owner Steven Cooper. ‘We now have three shops, one each in Kirkwall, Thurso and Lerwick, and it’s just a much better way to run the business. We see the Albert Street shop as our flagship store, and the cruise ships have definitely had a big impact on us – the tourist trade in general is huge for us.’
Aurora Jewellery was launched 19 years ago, quickly becoming an important member of Orkney’s talented jewellery sector. The company’s collections are inspired by the islands, with its designers also using influences from Scotland and further afield. They produce a wide range of pieces with new ranges launched every year.
The collections always prove popular with the cruise ship passengers. ‘They buy a lot of jewellery – it’s an ideal product for them as it’s small, easy to carry and they’re keen to get something that has been made locally,’ said Steven. ‘But our giftware is always popular during the summer too, things like textiles, tartans, wraps, rugs and shawls, we sell a lot of that to our visitors.’
Steven makes regular trips down south to trade shows to make sure that the stock in his shops continues to evolve in support of the beautiful jewellery on offer. This helps maintain the local trade as well as encouraging more visitors through the door.
It certainly appears to be working, with the expansion to include the shop in Lerwick carried out in 2015. It’s easy to see where the cruise trade has an impact though. According to Steven, December used to be the busiest month for sales across all three stores. That’s still the case in Thurso, and to an extent Lerwick. But here in Kirkwall it’s a different matter.
‘May, June, July and August are massive months for us,’ said Steven. ‘They’ve completely overtaken the Christmas period in Orkney. Tourism in general in the islands is very good and has grown and grown, but the cruise ships have made a big difference. The more that are coming in, the better things get for us.’
It also helps to brighten up the days, with such a wide variety of new faces and voices coming in and out of the shop. Staff get to hear all about their travels and their thoughts about Orkney, as well as finding out where they come from and listening to stories from home.
‘On the days the bigger ships are in I try to get down to the shop to help out and I really enjoy it. It’s great to meet all the different people that come in,’ said Steven. ‘The Americans in particular are very chatty and are so entertaining. It’s great, I really enjoy it!’
As the cruise ship trade in Orkney continues to grow and develop, it appears that this local business will do the same, helping to promote our talented designers, craftsmen and women, and the islands as a whole.