Merimbula main street woes; businesses claim high rents

Just one of the empty shopfronts on Merimbula's Market St. Businesses are feeling the sting of a changing world.
Just one of the empty shopfronts on Merimbula's Market St. Businesses are feeling the sting of a changing world.

A busy Merimbula cafe is closing its doors this week and selling everything off.

It's unfortunately not alone.

Take a stroll along Merimbula's main street and you can count at least eight empty shop fronts - and that's not going into the arcades and the malls that lie behind the Market St shops.

According to local business owners, shop closures are not surprising and many fear its a reality for them just waiting to happen.

Due to concerns of compromising business, all shop owners we spoke to wished to remain anonymous.

However, just in the past couple of months alone, Double Shot Cafe, Waves Restaurant and Cool Cat Collectables closed and Sundeck has announced it will be shutting as of this weekend. That's not including the unfortunate loss of Tackle World and Merimbula Bakery and several other businesses listed for sale.

Business owners said high rental costs have become a major factor in the ongoing closures. Some owners compared the rental prices with those of busy Sydney suburbs.

"Landlords need to be aware a shop in Merimbula is very different to a shop in Sydney. We don't have the same amount of people to fill the chairs - the rents don't reflect the foot traffic," said one business owner.

The lease value of a shop front in Merimbula is around $27 per square metre, compared to popular Bondi in Sydney where it's around $50 a square metre. An average sized shop lease in Bondi of around 55.0sqm is priced at $3166 per month, while 58.0sqm on the main street in Merimbula is priced at $1583 per month.

"The price of rents were set in the 'boom time'," one retailer told the Merimbula News Weekly.

"They haven't been reduced with the income of the retailer, the landlords need to take a cut in their income as well."

One business owner in a prominent position said many tenants pay between $2500 and $2800 per month and with the crippling price of electricity and the increase in wages, they are beginning to question the future of their business.

"Why would you keep going when you are only making just enough to cover the basic costs," they said.

High rents are not the only factor. Another retailer said there are many factors to take into consideration, including online shopping, winter months and "three years of continuous disruption with the development of the intersection [Monaro and Market St]."

"The intersection is the worst thing that could have happened," they said.

"People no longer park and come into town, they just bypass, unless it's something specific they are looking for.

"Even if landlords lowered rents, you still need people to come into town.

"Poker machine revenue on which Merimbula was built has dwindled since Victoria changed its gambling laws, affecting tourist numbers and money spent and kept in town. Merimbula also loses potential tourists to cheap overseas airfares and accommodation deals.

"However, it's not just Merimbula. Online shopping has made it difficult for retailers. Pretty soon there will only be hairdressers and coffee because they're just about the only things you can't buy online," they added.

"There is no easy answer and no easy fix.

"We need energy and vision and to promote Merimbula as a destination all year round, not just on weekends."