Downtown shop closures cyclical

By Michele McPherson

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Three national retailers have shut up shop for good in the heart of Tauranga's shopping district this week, but local leasing agents say new tenants are out there.

Barkers Men's Clothing in Mid-City Mall will close its doors for the last time this afternoon, putting three fulltime staff out of work.

A staff member at the shop said the company's Papamoa store at Fashion Island would remain open but had no staff vacancies.

Meanwhile, gift stop Living & Giving, also in Mid-City Mall, and computer gamer's paradise EB Games in nearby Goddards Centre closed this week.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

The departures will leave more empty shops in the heart of downtown Tauranga after Robert Harris Cafe and Limelight gift shop left the State Insurance Arcade, which link's Mid-City Mall and Grey St to move to Willow St.

McMahon Commercial leasing agent Philip Hunt said he was fielding inquiries regarding the arcade premises, but no signed leases yet.

Mainstreet Tauranga manager Kirby Weis said he understood SBS Bank - currently on the corner of Devonport Rd and Elizabeth St - might take over the empty Living & Giving premises but the staff member at Barkers said the store had not been released.

Managing director of Briscoe Group, which owns Living & Giving, Rod Duke, said an agreement on the lease could not be reached so the store was closed but he did not rule out re-opening elsewhere in Tauranga.

"We'll just sit on our hands for a while and have a look around," he said.

Mr Hunt was not surprised by this week's departures. "They've been on the go for a while. It's just that their leases are up and they've finished the Christmas trading period if you like. It happens most years," he said.

Meanwhile, two new retailers have also arrived in the central city this month.

Women's clothing store Platform - offering clothing for women size 14 to 24 - opened its doors in Mid-City Mall on January 12 and Rotorua business Doodle Stationery opened in the Goddards Centre last Saturday.

Owner of McMahon Commercial Denis McMahon said there were still "quite a few" national retailers with an interest in downtown Tauranga and it was a matter of finding them the right space. "While some commentators are saying it's looking bad I've been operating almost 20 years in the CBD and I've certainly seen times when it's been as tough as this. If the economy was going great guns we'd see these places being filled up a lot quicker," he said.

In the last six months Mr Hunt said he had leased 14 premises in the Tauranga CBD.

"That includes first-floor offices which, of course, are all important because the first floor offices are where the boutique premises are working. If the first floor was full the CBD would be humming," he said.

He said the level of inquiry in the last two to three months had been as good as he had seen it in the last three years and the company had brought on an extra person to assist.

"It is most definitely not doom and gloom. It is most definitely a cycle that we don't like that normally happens but there are strong positives out there that I'm seeing," he said.

Chief executive of Realty Services, which operates Eves and Bayleys, Ross Stanway, agreed there was a cyclical element to business in Tauranga's CBD as leases came up for expiry and tenants looked around. "Particularly in the market we've seen over the last two to three years landlords are certainly getting more competitive in their quest for tenants," he said.

Other premises became vacant when business owners opted to leave the retail sector altogether. "If it's not a business they can sell they'll retire," he said.

Mr Stanway said many regions with higher levels of unemployment had been hit harder than the Western Bay. "The way that Tauranga has fared compared to many other regions is pretty solid and we certainly don't see any alarm bells ringing. By and large the economic climate in our part of the Bay of Plenty has fared very well."

Mr Stanway said employment opportunities generated by the Fonterra and Maersk contracts with Port of Tauranga and development on the Tauranga Eastern Arterial would have a flow-on affect for the retail sector. "Those sorts of things in this region are a positive," he said.

Meanwhile, owners of Tauranga women's clothing store Maison Monique, Ward and Barbara Reid, will close the doors to the Willow St store for the last time next month.

After 40 years in Tauranga the business will close on February 29 as the Reids seek a quieter life away from the stresses of retail.

"The basic reason is that our lease is expiring on March 31 and our age group is such that we'd like to retire.

Said Mr Reid, "Also you've got to look at the bigger picture and retail, not only in Tauranga, is not as good as it used to be. We've got to be real about things."

Other recent changes in the CBD have seen Vanilla Bridal move from Devonport Rd - where it was known as Brides on Devonport - to a new site in Cameron Rd. Owner Debbie Maguigan said she wanted to re-establish the bridal business away from the CBD as a destination boutique. "It's something I'd been wanting to do for some time. It's just more 'boutiquey'."

The store is now available by appointment only. with Sam Boyer

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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