Harsh lessons from business closures

Last updated 08:30 07/07/2014

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OPINION: You can only hope the cluster of business closures in central Nelson is an unfortunate coincidence.

Last week saw the end of Everyman Records, the Millers Acre Cafe and Creperie and Bar Berlin.

Different factors contributed to their demise - Everyman was swimming against the tide of digital music downloads; the cafe faced a rent increase that tipped the balance and Bar Berlin's colourful owners decided the time was right for a new direction.

The timing may also be significant. Winter trading has always been a struggle for retailers in the city as residents hunker down and the stream of tourists lured by the region's great outdoors trails off.

One of the tragedies with Everyman is that its vibrant contribution to Nelson's cultural life - not just as a retailer, but as a repository of music knowledge and a venue for eclectic performances - is stained by the $265,000 debt owed to the city council for event ticket sales.

Owner Greg Shaw has not commented publicly, but there are questions that need answering about where the ticket money went and how such a large debt was able to accumulate over two years.

Council chief executive Clare Hadley calls it a "naive arrangement" that had not kept up with changes in technology - a metaphor for the wider problem faced by Everyman.

A repayment arrangement was in place, reducing the debt by around $20,000 by the time the company went into liquidation, but whether the council, on behalf of ratepayers, will see any more of the money owed is questionable.

The council has acknowledged the deal was not good practice, and has introduced a more modern ticketing system that operates online and at the council offices.

Among the wider lessons raised by the closures are the city's lack of indoor venues to bring in events that provide an economic injection. The Rutherford Hotel's expanded conference centre aside, there is a lack of such venues.

The closure of the Trafalgar Centre because of earthquake risks has been a big blow, and the sense of urgency over its reopening must continue to be pushed. Several business leaders have also called for a smaller performance venue to attract events, particularly in winter.

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It's not all seasonal gloom though. Next weekend's Light Nelson at Queen's Gardens is a beacon of hope to draw big crowds, along with Art Expo Nelson and the launch of the Nelson Winter Music Festival.

Initiatives like the free winter parking scheme and Hardy St retailers monthly Late Night on Hardy are also welcome attempts to inject some energy into the city.

Other projects are under way that raise confidence, such as the imminent construction of a new five-storey serviced apartment building in Collingwood St.

There is also some comfort that in just over eight weeks we will be slipping into spring.

- The Nelson Mail

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