Wollongong City Council says it is working to help struggling CBD retailers stay alive, but has no plans to change current parking fees or restrictions.
On Monday, the Mercury revealed South Coast Runners had packed up, adding to a growing list of retailers that have closed along the struggling lower end of the Crown Street Mall.
Other shops in the area are vacant – the Mercury counted at least six closed or with for lease signs along the shopping strip between Church and Kembla streets.
A lack of parking has long been identified as a major issue and council has also come under fire from retailers for not attracting shoppers back after the mall’s multimillion-dollar revamp.
A council spokeswoman said the mall’s marketing was contracted to Destination Wollongong who, along with council, would “continue to activate the space with an ongoing range of events and activities”.
“Currently, there’s a Pop-Up Botanic Garden in the top half of the mall and an interactive artwork ‘imagine’ at Church Street. Plans for a temporary art installation in the lower mall are currently being finalised with the work set to go in by autumn,” she said.
“In the lead up to Christmas, the Christmas tree was placed in the lower mall outside the Wesley Uniting Church.”
Just a few doors down from where the tree stood in December, Cafe Nova espresso bar owner Adriana Angeleska described business as being “up and down”.
“It’s better on days like this [Monday] when there is sunshine ... when it’s raining people tend to steer clear from here because they prefer to be up in the undercover end of the mall,” Ms Angeleska said, adding the opening of GPT’s Wollongong Central expansion hadn’t helped small lower-mall businesses.
“That’s kind of cut our legs, so to speak, because no one really comes down past The Square [cafe in Central Chambers, near Church Street],” she said.
“It’s not horrendous, but it could be better.”
Council and GPT denied their parking restrictions were contributing to shoppers bypassing the CBD to shop elsewhere.
“Council’s paid parking rates for on and off-street parking are the cheapest in Australia and have seen a positive change to the availability of parking spaces and rates of car space occupancy in the city,” the spokeswoman said.
GPT Group general manager Dennis Price said paid parking was “common in all CBD environments” and Wollongong Central’s summer parking scheme, which included a flat-rate of $3.50 for less than three hours, was being reviewed to determine if it would remain in place.
While parking might be causing problems for retailers in Wollongong, a Stockland Shellharbour shop owner claims exorbitant rent is forcing some doors shut at the southern shopping centre.
The retailer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said about 50 shops had closed since the centre’s upgrade, the first stage of which opened in 2012.
The man, who has operated a store in the centre for 10 years, pays $10,000 a month in rent. “There’s three or four shops closing a month; the rent is so ridiculous nobody can make money,” he said.
A Stockland spokeswoman said the Shellharbour centre was 96 per cent leased and retail rental rates were “in line with market value for retail space in similar shopping centres across the state”.
Retailer says she isn’t ‘taking a hike’
The sign in the window might say “closing down”, but Take a Hike owner Rowena Boreland says her “everything must go” sale is more like a clearance.
Doors will close on January 31, but the future of the outdoor travel store, at the lower end of Wollongong’s Crown Street Mall, is still being determined.
“I’ll either move shop … or I’ll redesign this shop and re-merchandise to allow more room for footwear,” Ms Boreland, who has run the store for 19 years, said.
“I’ve got to have the room in here for what actually sells because there’s a lot of competition.” The retailer said the woes experienced by lower-mall businesses were the result of a lack of parking and not enough cover to protect shoppers from the elements.
“We are a little bit isolated, we are a little bit neglected … but I think we do need to be responsible as shop owners to work our butt off,” she said.
“There’s just not the people coming in any more. There’s so many shops, there’s not enough people coming into Wollongong.”