Brisbane’s ghost towns: The high streets on road to ruin

 

"FOR lease" signs dot the landscape of Brisbane's once-mighty high streets, laying bare the challenge the iconic strips face in competing with shopping centres and online retailers.

Property listings show a 75 retail spaces are for lease along the once-vibrant shopping terraces of Paddington.

Rival high streets aren't faring much better, with 27 retail spaces lying empty in Ascot, 24 in Bulimba and 20 in Nundah.

While local shop owners have complained of astronomical rents and low foot traffic, Brisbane City Council has insisted power prices, wages and increased competition are behind the closure of small businesses.

The statistics follow calls for more to be done to arrest the decline of Brisbane's historic high streets.

In recent months, efforts have been made to revitalise the struggling shops along Paddington's Latrobe Tce and Given Tce.

'For Lease' signs on facades on Given Terrace in Paddington, which currently has 75 listings of retail property for lease. Picture: Claudia Baxter/AAP
'For Lease' signs on facades on Given Terrace in Paddington, which currently has 75 listings of retail property for lease. Picture: Claudia Baxter/AAP

At least two community-run organisations have been formed to discuss and implement ways to arrest the serious decline.

QUT professor Gary Mortimer said historic high streets were under direct assault from high competition.

"There's always been the belief that if you build it, they will come," he said.

"That doesn't seem to be the case."

Mr Mortimer said both motorists and pedestrians were frustrated by poor parking, a lack of shade and few pedestrian crossings.

"You look at La Trobe and Given, it's not easy to cross," Mr Mortimer said.

"If you look at James St, lots of trees, lots of shade, areas to sit. Paddington, there's no trees, so its hot, or its raining and its cold."

 

 

However, Mr Mortimer said precincts like James St in Fortitude Valley had shown that high streets with a unified brand were viable.

"When you look at the other areas, there's no clear proposition, there's no clear reason to go there," he said.

The Courier-Mail visited a number of shops along Latrobe and Given terraces in Paddington, most of which said their biggest issues were the street layout, rents and foot traffic.

Nigel Kerr, who has managed The Guitar Shop along Latrobe Tce for over 20 years, said foot traffic had fallen but neighbour's rents had not.

"For the types of businesses which were coming in, they're way too high," Mr Kerr said.

"(Landlords) will prefer to have an empty building than to drop rents."

Queensland University of Technology's Dr Gary Mortimer from the School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations said high streets like Latrobe and Given terraces were struggling from having a lack of clear purpose in the market.
Queensland University of Technology's Dr Gary Mortimer from the School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations said high streets like Latrobe and Given terraces were struggling from having a lack of clear purpose in the market.

Little Bird Bookshop owner Chris Oliver said his annual rent of $50,000 was "too expensive."

"There's very little pedestrian traffic along the strip," Mr Oliver said.

"There aren't enough parking spots for local residents and people from other suburbs to park their cars and walk into local businesses," he said.

Frustration from tenants has reached such heights that a local magazine for Bulimba, called Oxford, ran a story urging landlords to consider rent reductions.

"This Christmas, wouldn't it be so great if some more of our Oxford Street landlords would … think about the long term, and accept that maybe some rents have grown too far too quickly," the article read.

"Let's hope so."

Leanne DeMartini said foot traffic and a desire to try new workshops at her other stores was behind her decision to close her Oxford St store. Picture: Attila Csaszar/AAP
Leanne DeMartini said foot traffic and a desire to try new workshops at her other stores was behind her decision to close her Oxford St store. Picture: Attila Csaszar/AAP

Thousand Island Dressing owner Leanne DeMartini, who has outlets of her jewellery and homewares business in Bulimba, New Farm and Paddington, said she would close her Oxford St shop after 15 years later this month.

Ms DeMartini said a decrease in foot traffic had been the leading factor behind the decision.

"We've had some great times here and it is a really great community," she said.

"Years ago, people would drive, come out all the way from (outer suburbs)."

"Bulimba is still busy Friday til Sunday, but just not as much passing traffic Monday through Thursday which makes it challenging to cover wages, rent and expenses."

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner however insisted that small business was being squeezed by factors they couldn't control.

"There are a range of factors for the closure of small businesses, including spiralling electricity prices, staffing costs and increased competition in the retail and hospitality sectors," Cr Schrinner said.

He said council had implemented a range of measures to support high streets and would consider turning Oxford St, Bulimba into a "precinct project."

 

 

 

Empty shops and streetrs in Nundah. Picture: John Gass/AAP
Empty shops and streetrs in Nundah. Picture: John Gass/AAP

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