Business confidence surveys show economic confidence is high as people spend more and feel positive about the future, yet experiences vary wildly behind the till.
Some business owners said they'd noticed more foot traffic in central Nelson; others, less. Some had an excellent Christmas; others had struggled.
Several owners said they were torn between wanting to promote an air of confidence in local retail and telling the truth.
None wanted to reveal their names for fear of "letting the side down", but blamed factors such as fewer people in town, landlords charging too-high rent, and Nelson City Council bringing in rates charges for multi-tenanted commercial buildings in 2011.
Others cited parking costs in central Nelson, particularly compared to Richmond's free parking.
But among those happy to report business was ticking along well was Kirati Thaisirisuk,co-owner of design store Cubicle on Hardy St, who said this year was "definitely better" than last year.
Susi Blackmore, co-owner of Page and Blackmore Booksellers, said their shop was always full, which she attributed to good service, passionate staff, and "a wonderful, loyal group of customers".
She didn't buy the poor parking complaints, and said there was plenty of free parking nearby with pleasant walks to the city.
"People should use their legs."
Another help was being active in the community through sponsorship of the Readers and Writers Festival and regular book events.
"Maybe the age of individual retailers is nigh," she said. "You can't just stand behind the counter and take money off people and not put anything back."
In Richmond, Village Cycles owners Sue and Jim Matthews said the Great Taste Cycle Trail had been a huge boon to their business, with sales of comfort bikes increasing as more locals took up leisure cycling.
They also attributed their current buoyancy to providing good service. Takaka's The Curry Leaf owner Andrew Bulters said it had been a good season, and he was up on last year.
"I've got a lot more locals coming in now. It seems like February has slowed down a bit, whereas January was pretty full on."
He felt people in town were saying that trading was mostly the same, or even down on last year.
Motueka's Abel Tasman Outdoors owner Kendall Riley said trading was "pretty much status quo".
"We're having a pretty average season, due to the wet weather over Christmas. Internationals are down, domestic tourism stayed similar."
Cook Strait ferry problems had a huge impact as well, he said, cutting the campervan market and meaning plenty of New Zealanders stayed away as well.
"I think generally most people are happy with what they've managed to pull out of summer," he said. "It takes a while for small towns to come out recessions."
Several Nelson business owners cited the old argument about parking, saying that increasing retail development and "free" parking in Richmond – which is in fact subsidised in other ways – pulled customers away.
They feared the Nelson Junction development near the Annesbrook Drive roundabout would only make matters worse.
They also blamed parking charges moving to $1 an hour, new council contractor EIL being too militant with ticketing, and cuts to all-day parking in Wakatu Square.
The Nelson City Council is about to review its parking strategy, with discussions this week and a call for public engagement to come.
One store manager said "grumpy" people frequently asked how they were expected to support Nelson businesses if it was so difficult to park their car.
Parking was having "a major impact" on another business, an owner said.
"[Customers] are not just complaining. They are actually going [to Richmond instead].
"The council needs to do more to support existing businesses and attract new businesses to town."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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