Related: New mayor promises ‘coming of age’
CBD traders say the new mayor must address parking, encourage unique retail precincts and promote Bendigo as a shopping destination across the state.
Inner-city retailers welcomed newly-elected City of Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke’s declaration she wanted to make developing a retail strategy a priority of her term in office.
Hunt Gather Grow owner Nick Vowles said the city could do more to promote “buy local” campaigns.
Mr Vowles said he would like to see the new mayor throw her weight behind existing council initiatives to encourage more inner-city living and to develop shopping precints.
He said the proposed ‘Lyttle Square Precinct’ – of which his business would form a part – could establish a hub of healthy eating, gardening and produce stores.
“But what council needs to do to give CBD retailers a crack is free parking,” he said. “The Market Place is always packed – that’s because they have free parking.”
A few blocks down Williamson Street at Marion & Me, retailer Alida Robinson said another business cluster was developing based on boutique clothes and footwear.
“What the city has done with the arts have helped us, the major events have helped us,” Ms Robinson said.
She said the city had eclectic shopping and dining areas such as Bath Lane and Chancery Lane – which needed promoting.
“They’ve marketed those big events outside of Bendigo,” she said. “We need to look at a marketing strategy that can brand us.”
Traders’ parking, precinct push
The manager of City Chic in downtown Bendigo doesn’t need more than a moment to identify the two biggest gripes her customers have about shopping in the CBD.
“There’s parking and there’s the ‘mall rats,’” Kathryn Walker.
“People fear being subjected to yelling, screaming and drug abuse.
“It’s a shame, because it’s a great little area, there are some great stores – but it’s bloody tough down here.”
And she’s far from the only one to identify parking as a major inhibitor on retail growth.
Hunt Gather Grow owner Nick Vowles said retail was doing it tough everywhere and parking issues in the CBD made turning a profit impossible for some.
“I get really depressed when I walk through the laneway to Hargreaves Mall and see closed stores,” he said.
“Parking is a huge issue and has a lot to do with that.”
He said the city could waive parking fees without a major hit to its bottom line.
“Council makes about $1.8 million in parking fines and only $200,000 from parking metres,” he said.
“So they could keep the current time limits, or even reduce some of them, and still fine people who over stay their welcome.”
Mr Vowles backed a number of existing council plans and called on the new mayor to speed up the creation of the proposed ‘Lyttle Square Precinct’ and encourage more inner-city apartments.
Another retail worker who said the city needed to invest more in current initiatives was Marion & Me’s Alida Robinson.
“If you look at the Twilight Markets, that is the type of thing that does attract people back into the CBD and we need to see a lot more of that,” she said.
Cr O’Rourke has previously spoken about making Bendigo a retail hub and service provider for regional Victoria.
But Ms Robinson said the city should be more ambitious than that.
“We need to attract the right kind of retail,” she said.
“If you look down the mall, it’s all chain stores ... I think we need better style and a bit more variety.
“We’ve got the railway to Melbourne – if we did it right I think people would come up from Melbourne to shop for the day.”