Chamber says change for High St 'inevitable'
Retailing is facing tough times in the central city southwest of Queensgate.
High-profile business Ian Schofer Pharmacy is moving from its location of more than 45 years and the Hutt News is aware of other significant businesses looking at moving.
High Street between Margaret St and Laings Road, the western side of Queens Drive, and Margaret and Dudley streets have 28 empty shops. Two other businesses are currently closing and one is a garage sale.
Mr Schofer describes the area as "dead" and says foot traffic is almost non-existent.
With the retailing sector generally finding it tough, he has doubts about the future of southern High St.
Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce chief executive David Kiddey agrees the area is struggling and says change is inevitable.
"Over the next year you are going to see a lot of change in retailing in High Street and Queens Drive. One of the reasons is the need to earthquake strengthen a number of buildings and the other reason is the general decline in retailing."
Retailing is changing due to internet shopping and he says all retailers have to respond.
A good example is the women's perfume that Ian Schofer once had the sole agency for.
It can now be purchased on-line, from Hong Kong, at half the price.
Retailers in High Street have been hit by decreasing foot traffic, rising insurance costs and online competition, as well as the on- going impact of Queensgate, he says.
Typical of the businesses is women's clothing shop Pagani. Manager Catherine Foaese says there are few shoppers around before 1pm. When Pagani was based in Queensgate, there was a constant stream of people coming in.
She has heard that Number One Shoes is looking at moving and she says that would have a big impact.
If such high profile businesses move out, Pagani is likely to follow.
Businessman John Bank has heard rumours of businesses moving but says Banks Shoes is doing well.
Having been in business for many years, he says it goes in cycles and he points to the early 1990s, when Jackson Street was almost empty.
He puts much of the blame for the current decline in foot traffic at the feet of the Hutt City Council.
Parking should be free and traffic wardens need to present a more friendly face, he says.
Turning some of the empty buildings into parking would help and he would like council to listen more to retailers.
If the council does not act, he says, it will soon be too late to make a difference.
"When a city goes dark, it is a long hard road to turn it around. It is better to fix it now."
Council development manager Cyndi Christensen says council has a wide range of strategies to do just that.
As well as the Margaret Street market, the council is committed to its 30-year plan Making Places and is producing a booklet to help businesses get started.
It also has a range of "development incentives" to encourage apartments and is looking at using empty space for art and community events.
A summer music programme is also planned. All the initiatives are aimed at encouraging vibrancy in the central city and creating a reason to visit, she says.
The council is not, however, looking at free parking in order to compete with Queensgate.
Ms Christensen points out that at $1.50 per hour, the cost of parking in Lower Hutt is significantly less than Wellington.
See page 6 for a story on Ian Schofer.