A D*scribe investigation by Christie Harrison and Nathalie Silva
A disturbing amount of empty shop fronts line Geelong’s main streets as small businesses struggle with rising rent costs, parking issues and the influx of major chain stores.
George Emtsis has been in business for 30 years and ran the store George’s Rug Clearance Centre on Moorabool St. He shut up shop this month, blaming high rental costs.
He believes customers are being scared away by the city’s lack of short-term parking and the fierce competition of online shopping during a current volatile retail period.
“Rent is going up, product prices to the customer are going down, so the margins are low and that creates job losses and shop closures, simple as that,” Mr Emtsis said.
Other workers on Ryrie Street agree.
Fujisan Japanese Sushi Bar sales assistant Kim Pun said parking issues in central Geelong needed to be addressed as lack of short term parking on Ryrie St and nearby streets was affecting their business.
“Customers just want to park their car for a short time, come in and buy their food and go but the existing parking restrictions do not allow that,” she said.
Ms Pun believes the introduction of shopping malls like Westfield Shopping Centre means customers are foregoing the smaller, niche stores and heading straight for the major retailers which means rent prices in the area are pushed up and other retailers are being forced out of business.
Empty shop fronts are not necessarily announcing the end of small businesses, according to Colliers International Commercial real estate property manager Steph Davie.
Ms Davie said, regardless of the empty shop fronts on Ryrie St, the logistics behind negotiating a retail lease were extensive and took time but the Geelong retail property market was going from strength to strength
“There is a lot of activity that occurs behind the scenes when negotiating a retail lease and some properties can take up to 12 months during the planning process that people don’t see,” she said.
A City of Greater Geelong spokesperson said the council was working on a number of projects to make the city centre more accessible to the public and assist the Geelong business community.
“We’re working on a car parking strategy and we’ve introduced an integrated grants scheme to better target future funding of Geelong business projects,” the spokesperson said.