The owners of five businesses on Palmerston North's former inner-city shopping mecca, Broadway Ave, have announced they will leave the street in the next few months. Jono Galuszka looks into an issue that has become a major concern for the city's retail sector.
The troubles plaguing Palmerston North's Broadway Ave - once the heart of retail shopping in the city - are intensifying as three more longstanding businesses prepare to move out.
Vacant buildings and empty shop fronts are growing in number as factors including the economic recession and Farmers moving to The Plaza continue to be blamed for a downturn in trade.
Business owners are pointing the finger at the Palmerston North City Council for failing to maintain the area properly or sufficiently deal with parking and beggar problems.
This week, the owners of Bag World, Palmerston North Stamp Centre and Alexanders have made the call to leave Broadway.
Last month, the owners of GQ Clothing and Mason's City Watches both said they would shut early next year.
Bag World owner Rob Hawthorn said he would shut his store, which opened in 1998, at the end of next month.
"There's no point keeping it open," he said. "There's not enough trade - it's very irregular." Mr Hawthorn blamed parking issues and a lack of maintenance of the street for the downturn.
"[The council] haven't done anything to Broadway to make it attractive, but they've spent an awful amount of money making George St pretty.
"[Broadway] has really gone downhill and it's crap."
He said visitors to Palmerston North remembered Broadway as the shopping street, but when they went there now and saw it was shabby, they left town.
"They don't stop to spend money.
"Now [Broadway] is being abandoned in great quantities by previously successful retailers."
The council had to do something, or there would be no more businesses left to bring money into the local economy, he said. Palmerston North Stamp Centre owner Bruce Graves said his 34-year-old store would close on December 21.
The plan was to work from home, he said. "I'll at least save money on rent. We're just trying to minimise our costs."
He said the move was to do with the retail climate on the street.
"This is Christmas, but it doesn't feel like it. There just hasn't been the influx."
Many customers were keeping away because of the parking system, he said.
"I now have a parking satchel, where I'll pay the parking and make sure the meter is working for my best customers."
The economic climate had also dealt retailers a rough hand, he said.
"People are doing what the Government has asked them to do - save money. Unfortunately, that has hit retailers hard."
Mr Graves said the council should step in to make Broadway a more attractive shopping destination.
"We don't want handouts, but we want them to give people a reason to come here and shop."
Alexanders will close at the end of the year, 17 years after opening on Broadway. Manawatu Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephanie Gundersen-Reid said it was concerning to hear that businesses were leaving Broadway Ave.
"That is a concern, not just to Broadway but to the whole of Palmerston North.
"From the chamber's perspective, maybe we need to be talking to the retailers and the council about future plans and where this is going and what we can do to help."
The chamber has been in discussions with council staff about parking, but Ms Gundersen-Reid said it would be more than happy to "step into" the issue of businesses leaving Broadway Ave.
City council city future general manager Sheryl Bryant said the council had invested in Broadway in the 1990s to improve the streetscape and paving, before turning its attention to The Square itself. It had also worked to ensure the role of the city's retail heart was protected by resisting the potential for large-format stores to set up beyond the central business district.
Changes to the district plan aimed to strengthen the role of the central city, and improve standards of amenity with stricter urban design rules, she said.
The council was also encouraging placemaking initiatives around the city, including Broadway. Next year, the council will be employing a student intern to do a retail health check of the area.
The length of The Square leading from The Plaza to Broadway is due for a $2 million makeover in 2016.
- Additional reporting by Janine Rankin and Jonathon Howe.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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