Martine Rolls: CBD needs more oomph

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Last Saturday's Inside Story, the first part of a two-week feature in the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend on downtown Tauranga, paints a grim picture.

It presents unhappy retailers, empty shops, substandard buildings, businesses bailing to other areas and shoppers who are spending their dollars elsewhere.

One retailer said his customers often used the word "depressed" to describe the area, but there are also business owners who said they wouldn't want to be anywhere but in the CBD.

They saw it as an area with a difference and believed it was a matter of finding a niche and encouraging more people into the area.

The first comment that appeared on the online version of the story, placed by a reader using the name Religuloso, called for positive marketing instead of all the negatives.

"In some ways, the retailers have become their own worst enemies and always seem to be complaining about one thing or another. Parking or paying parking fees," he posted.

Parking is always the main issue mentioned by retailers but do shoppers really mind putting a few dollars in the meter?

And if they do, or don't want to be limited by time, can't they park on the edge of town and walk a little further? That's what I do.

"In these tough times, we are all chasing the same 20 per cent of people who are spending downtown," said Comida owner Luigi Barattieri in the story.

"Of the remaining 80 per cent, 20 per cent are too old, 20 per cent are too young, 20 per cent have a mortgage and 20 per cent are too broke.

"We need more people - tourists, Aucklanders, business people with higher wages. Then downtown will come alive again."

I think he hits the nail on the head.

Mr Barattieri, who owns three successful eateries in Tauranga, believed that even in tough times, there was always a niche. He saw it with his new wine, oyster and tapas bar which was doing great business.

To pull customers and visitors in, and keep them interested in what you are offering, it's important to present yourself at your best.

It means everything should look good and function well in-store but also on websites and business-related social media pages.

It's the full mix that has to be spot on, and there's not much point if it's just one-way traffic.

I had a look at downtowntauranga.co.nz today and, for good measure, also checked out mountmaunganui.org.nz, Mount Mainstreet's site, as well as both organisations' Facebook pages.

Mount Mainstreet is performing a bit better, especially on Facebook.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't see room for improvement, but both websites are comparatively up to date, offer plenty of information, navigate easy enough and look okay.

What they do need, is a bit more oomph.

Priority One chief executive Andrew Coker said in Saturday's story that initiatives on the boil would bring bigger businesses into the downtown, creating a new demographic of consumers with higher discretionary spending power.

These include 1700 students in the new tertiary campus and a 200-room hotel and 500 capacity conference centre in Durham St.

That is something to look forward to and I definitely think it can help put Downtown Tauranga back on the map.

The Bay of Plenty Times asked their followers on Facebook what they think should be done to revitalise downtown Tauranga.

There were 38 reactions and although some mention the ever-present parking issues, most people call for free, fun activities, family events, festivals and markets.

One reader even suggested employing a town crier.

My own comment was: "More unique stores, selling NZ-made, original products.

"Leave the chain stores that all look similar and sell the same things for the shopping malls.

"Markets! Buskers! Anything that brings liveliness to Tauranga is a good thing."

I'm not giving up on our town centre and will wait patiently for things to happen.

Martine Rolls is a Tauranga writer and digital strategist

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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