Christchurch nightlife - is the party over?

Drinkers are drinking less, and going home sooner, business owners say.
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Drinkers are drinking less, and going home sooner, business owners say.

Tough times are forcing some central Christchurch hospitality operators from the industry, with some giving away businesses just to get out.

A large number of bars and eateries are for sale, some at less than the value of the chattels. In other cases, asking prices are less than half what current owners paid.

Long-established bar and restaurant owner Max Bremner urged Christchurch to do more to attract visitors.  

The Cotton Club is one of many Christchurch bars for sale.
Stacy Squires

The Cotton Club is one of many Christchurch bars for sale.

"Christchurch is slipping. We need cruise ships, events, rugby matches, potato growers conferences. Auckland has events all the time.

"We need a stadium and a convention centre. Otherwise we're really struggling."

"Those big weekends are where you make the money to tide you over the slow times. We just don't have that now."

Harlequin Public House owner Jonny Schwass said central Christchurch needed residents for businesses to survive.
Guy Frederick

Harlequin Public House owner Jonny Schwass said central Christchurch needed residents for businesses to survive.

Advertisements for two central city businesses for sale include the enticements "price of chattels only" and "business priced at a fraction of its original plant and chattel value to ensure a quick sale". 

Among those seeking new owners in the central city and suburbs are Tequila Mockingbird, Cotton Club, Harlequin Public House, Mrs Hucks, Belgian Beer Cafe, Town Tonic, Twisted Hop, Phoenix Tavern, Castrol's Garage, Burgers and Beers, Alvarado's Mexican Cantina, The Rock, The Watershed, and Lyttelton's Civil and Naval. 

Others have changed hands and names several times since the earthquakes.

Industry members say that as well as the slow rebuild, contributing factors include competition, higher rents in new buildings, roadworks, and tougher liquor and drink driving laws. Inexperienced owners, some setting up with insurance money, have not all coped.

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Harlequin Public House owner Jonny Schwass said central Christchurch needed residents for businesses to survive.

"We need the sort of people who come out to dinner twice a week, not just on their birthdays."

He said he "wouldn't give away" his business, but understood why others would.

"People think it's a lifestyle. But it's a seven-day a week business. They realise it's a grind, and they're breaking even or worse, so they'll sell for the price of the chattels.

"They are thinking: How do we get out of this?"

Schwass said every developer wanted bars and cafes in their building. He believes the number of liquor licences should be restricted.

Central City Business Association head Brendan Chase said the rebuild had made the city "something of a frontier town".

Patronage was patchy and shifting, and operators had to factor in a lot of risk, he said. 

"I do wonder how realistic some of them have been with lease terms. They are trying to predict where the people will be and when they're coming back."

Bremner said while those like him with their own premises were well positioned, some tenant operators just wanted the lease off their hands.

"It's easy to sell a business and take a big hit, but you still have a contract and a landlord. The lease is what puts them under pressure."

Christchurch property investor Antony Gough has attributed delays on his The Terrace hospitality complex to experienced bar and restaurant owners waiting cautiously for the optimal time to sign a lease. 

Business broker Colin Askin of  Knight Frank estimated that the top 20 per cent of hospitality businesses did well, with the rest competing for what was left. Many were inexperienced.

"It's a tough game. It's an industry under stress, there's no doubt about that."

Buyers were paying half what they would have paid two or three years ago, Askin said.

"There are too many players in the market. We know a number that are totally suffering in terms of turnover, in some cases there's been a substantial drop."

Business broker Peter Harris of Bayleys said there were "a lot of businesses on the market, including some good ones, but buyers are few and far between".

"The CBD (central business district) operators especially are currently feeling the pressure."

 

 - Stuff

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