OPINION: The slow decline of Broadway Avenue, once the heart of retail shopping in Palmerston North, is a sad story.
The troubles that have beset the street in recent years, especially since the expansion of The Plaza, have sparked much debate about how to ensure its long-term survival, with the finger invariably pointed at the city council for not doing enough to preserve its appeal as a shopping destination.
The criticisms levelled at the council are not without foundation. Certainly, the city's new parking meter system has done little to encourage people to shop on central city streets like Broadway, and anecdotal evidence suggests the meters have caused many to stay away all together.
But Broadway's problems are bigger than that, and there is little the city council can do to cure them. The harsh reality facing retailers in the street is that irresistible market forces are at the heart of the changes in shopping behaviour that are hitting them in the pocket.
For better or worse, the retail landscape in New Zealand has changed. Once shoppers strolled a main street filled with locally-owned and operated shops; now they zip in and out of chain stores in large, sprawling malls, have lunch at the food court, then throw their shopping bags in the back of their car in an adjacent multi-story carpark and drive home.
People are increasingly time poor and are attracted to the convenience of shopping in one centralised location with an array of stores to choose from. Of course, an hour's free parking at the Plaza is also a drawcard, but if Broadway retailers think that is the only thing that separates the two destinations, they are mistaken.
The demise of stores like GQ, the Palmerston North Stamp Centre, and Bag World is a big blow to the character of the city. Those stores, and others like them, have been long-term fixtures in town, and the people who own them live here and care deeply about this place.
Broadway Avenue has a future, but we must accept that it will not look like its past. The retail landscape is changing - rapidly and drastically - and traditional retail outlets have to change with it.
ONE MORE THING: It's going to be a busy weekend in bars and restaurants, with many workplaces holding their end-of-year Christmas functions.
Have a great time celebrating the end of the working year, but don't get carried away on the booze. Remember, you still have to work with your colleagues next year.
- Manawatu Standard
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