Empty city shops not all gloom

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 08:00 12/01/2013

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Calls have gone out for people to think positively about Palmerston North's retail spaces, with real estate agents saying the empty shops around town are not a bad omen.

Much has been said about the state of Palmerston North retail since The Plaza expanded in 2010.

Some have blamed it for the death of strip shopping in the city, especially on Broadway Ave, saying shops and shoppers are deserting streets for the mall.

The Manawatu Standard counted 402 retail locations in the central business district. Areas surveyed included George St, Coleman Mall, Broadway Ave, The Square, Cuba, King and Main streets, as well as The Plaza and Downtown shopping centres.

Not including the 104 locations in The Plaza - which has full occupancy - 13.1 per cent of the locations were empty.

The George St/Coleman Mall area was best tenanted, with only 4 per cent empty, while almost one third of the sites on King St were empty.

Just over 15 per cent of stores on Broadway Ave were empty, but that number will jump to 22 per cent once GQ Clothing, Bag World, Mason's City Watches and a temporary clothing vacate.

Professionals commercial manager Steve Williams said it was impossible to accurately gauge the retail situation in the central city because data on vacancies was not kept.

"If there's 39 empty now, we've probably always had about 20."

While those numbers looked bad, Mr Williams said they had to be looked at in context.

"When The Plaza expanded, it added 40 more retail locations.

"The number of total premises available in the total pool has increased."

Some of the stores that moved to The Plaza would probably have set up on The Square or Broadway, he said.

While a set of shops moving out of Broadway was a concern, Mr Williams said it was also exciting for newcomers.

Mr Williams, who worked in retail before real estate, said Palmerston North had to remember how good a location it was for retailers.

"We have 1.9 per cent of the population here, but we capture about 2.7 per cent of [national] retail sales."

The size of the CBD was also an advantage, he said.

"Palmerston North is in a really enviable position in that we have a shopping mall and traditional street shop retail and are located in a really central area.

"It's not like Hamilton, where it's all over the place."

Baileys commercial real estate agent Steve O'Connell said the number of retail vacancies was higher than usual, but the tide was turning.

"The bottom end of Broadway is actually starting to fill up again," Mr O'Connell said.

Manawatu Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephanie Gundersen-Reid said Palmerston North was a great area for retail, but it could always be better.

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"I think council's Placemaking project is really cool, but it needs to be embraced by retailers.

"We need to turn the whole city into a fun place to shop."

Ms Gundersen-Reid said retailers had been concerned about the number of empty spaces, largely because of the tough economic times.

"It's time to start turning everything around and start being positive.

"I think Palmerston North has a lot going for it and we need to actually start promoting ourselves in a positive light."

Doing that would encourage more retailers to open in the city, she said.

- Manawatu Standard

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