Struggling Sumner businesses join forces

TOUGH TIMES: Kath Cross and other members of the Sumner Business Association have been working hard to entice customers back.
TOUGH TIMES: Kath Cross and other members of the Sumner Business Association have been working hard to entice customers back.

Photographs and footage of rockfalls and houses teetering on clifftops did little to help business in the seaside town of Sumner after the February earthquake.

"It looked shocking. It became apparent very quickly we needed to get together and help [improve] the public perception," Sumner Business Association facilitator Kath Cross said.

Once the containers were in place and it was safe, businesses worked together to encourage locals and tourists back to the area.

The 30 businesses advertised collectively in local print media, set up the Sumner Village website which lists local businesses, and held two street parties and other events to get Christchurch thinking about Sumner as a destination for dining, relaxing and shopping, Cross said.

The business group has published a tourist brochure for the village which is in place at i-Site, the Christchurch information centre, and other South Island locations.

It was hard to measure the benefits but there were now tourists walking around Sumner with the brochure in their hands, she said.

Her own business, The Cornershop Bistro, had seen a dropoff in evening patrons from Christchurch during the week, and now relied predominantly on local customers. The businesses were all working hard to share that pie, she said.

Salt Bar Cafe and Restaurant was one of the first businesses in Sumner to reopen after the earthquakes. Co-owner Carolyn Hereora said Salt reopened as soon as power was restored, three weeks after the quake, and served as a place for people to meet.

"There was nothing else out there."

Now, with more businesses open and fewer people living in the area, the restaurant was not as busy as it had been then.

"Business is so fickle, like the weather," Hereora said.

But the joint marketing opportunities created through the association had helped alleviate that.

The marketing effort to coax people from the city to Sumner was proving successful. While a street party did not necessarily translate into a full restaurant, each event meant an extra handful of customers per business that they otherwise would not have had.

There was strength in numbers, she said.

"Because everyone is basically owner-operators, juggling their family and their business, with everyone together doing it, it takes the pressure off."

Business is still a struggle for Village Grape owners Debbie and Wayne Hardaker.

Still operating out of containers and a tent after the earthquake damaged their Mariner St building, they are still waiting to hear when their landlord will rebuild their premises.

Half their customer base disappeared after the earthquakes as people moved out of the area, and there were fewer tourists than before the quakes.

It was important for people to support their local businesses, and that was the key driver of the Sumner Business Association - to encourage residents to shop locally, Debbie Hardaker said.

The Press