The crisis continues – what next?

You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet at the local experience lately. There is a good reason for that. I’ve have been taking some time out, firstly for a much needed break, to pursue some other projects, but also to reflect on thelocalexperience and what’s next.

And here’s what I’ve been reading on the front page The Age today:

Almost one in six shops stands empty in one of Melbourne’s premium shopping strips as tough retail conditions continue to hurt suburban streets.

Vacancy rates across 11 prime suburban streets reached an all-time high in August, up to 7 per cent, according to Knight Frank research.

”It has reached the highest level in 10 years since we began recording data,” research director Richard Jenkins said.

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It’s heartening to read that the contributors to the article agree with us:

Local shopping streets were too important to turn back into residential housing as had recently been suggested as a solution for Britain’s high streets, Dr Sands said.

Shopping streets must evolve if they are to survive, Mr Jenkins and Dr Sands said.

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So, over the past year of the local experience, we have been helping to develop new strategies, provide new marketing activities and find some funding for local traders. Having worked in change management for many years, I understand how absolutely paralyzing it can be when faced with what feels like endless problems, to turn it around, take a risk and do something you haven’t tried before.

It seems like a huge issue that can’t be solved. There are so many factors impacting on mainstreet and community culture – technology, the economic downturn, changing consumer needs and spending habits, traffic, town planning, rent prices, staff costs, regulations etc.

But here are success stories to inspire us:

Rents on most of Melbourne’s larger shopping streets had already gone down by up to 20 per cent, Mr Bourke said.

Hot dog specialist Massive Wieners, French macaron manufacturer A La Folie, health juice operator Pressed Juices, Mexican concept chain Zambreros, another Mexican restaurant, Fonda, Ben & Jerry’s ice-creamery and Chinese tea retailer Quali-T had all recently moved into Chapel Street or Toorak Road, Fitzroys leasing executive Michael Rainey said. Edgier fashion retailers were also taking space.

Stonnington Council has released a master plan that includes a ferry service along the river from the city to the strip and a $1.8 million plaza in Windsor that will form two ”gateways” to attract visitors to the popular but ”tired” street.

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Plus there are the case studies like Buffalo in the US:

As we continue to think about what else we can do to contribute to thriving main streets, I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions. A working group for main streets? Further funding? Encouraging risk taking? Throw them out there and lets see what emerges!

In the meantime, if your area is ready to take some action, as always, get it in touch.