Small retailers say they are being pushed out of lower Crown Street Mall, blaming drawn-out, erratic construction for a sharp downturn in trade.
Six weeks into the second stage of Wollongong City Council’s refurbishment work, the strain on businesses is clear as you walk the narrow strip between the shopfronts and construction zone.
On each side, there are empty shops and signs saying ‘‘moving on’’ or ‘‘closing down’’, and someone has scrawled frustrated graffiti – ‘‘Wollongong Council sux’’ – on the hoarding.
At the top end of the strip, Babes Boutique will close its doors this weekend after decades in the mall, moving to operate from its Thirroul premises.
Further down the mall, Uniq Hair Body Beauty owner Debbie Petreski closed her shop in January.
She made the decision to close before the second stage of works started because her landlord would not negotiate a short-term contract or lower rent.
‘‘I just didn’t want to take the risk, and seeing what the mall is like now I’m glad I did, because I wouldn’t have lasted,’’ she said.
Craft supply store Riot Art and Craft is not shutting, but the growing number of shop closures has forced manager De-anna Wilson to post a sign telling customers she’s still open.
‘‘We’re having a clearance sale and people kept asking if we were closing down so we had to put the sign up just to let them know we’d be sticking around,’’ Ms Wilson said.
Likewise, clothing store Frolic Girls owner Kelly Kreilis said her business would survive, but she had noticed a dramatic drop in trade since work began.
‘‘We’ve had to work back late, or even start early, to get on social media to advertise and make sure people know we are still here,’’ Ms Kreilis said.
‘‘I am supportive of the upgrade, we need it and I understand why the council is doing this. But 10 months is a long time to deal with it, and I really hope we’re not going to have to cop a rent increase from our landlords after it’s finished.’’
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said he felt for struggling retailers, but said the council would ‘‘make no apologies for investing $20million into the mall’’.
He said shop closures had been happening for decades and were part of the reason the council decided to upgrade the mall.
‘‘Since I came to the city in 1996, when the mall was a busy place, I have seen a gradual downturn. We need to get people back into the city, and if we do nothing that won’t happen.’’
Cr Bradbery said most of the noisy work was complete, and advised retailers to talk to council or Destination Wollongong about marketing opportunities.