Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Shoebox shops 'the ruin of Queen St'

Tiny shops are making main street tacky, say city critics. Photo / Supplied
Tiny shops are making main street tacky, say city critics. Photo / Supplied

Shoebox-sized shops selling "rubbish" on Auckland's golden mile have raised the ire of a city leader, concerned about the spread of low-grade businesses up the city's premier shopping street.

Cameron Brewer, chairman of Auckland Council's business advisory panel, said Queen St retailing was the pride of New Zealand 50 years ago.

"Whatever happened to the Golden Mile?" Brewer asked.

"Now it has come down to these little shoebox shops selling absolute rubbish," he said.

"You really have to wonder the logic of the council wanting to spend nearly $500 million on CBD and waterfront upgrades over the next 10 years, when at the same time it's signing off these awful little developments.

"It completely runs counter to the mayor's vision of creating a world class city centre."

Pocket traders would only send good retailers and shoppers away to the suburbs, Brewer said.

"Only five years ago Queen St had about $50 million of ratepayers' money spent on it, and more recently the same amount was spent on Aotea Square and millions on turning some side streets into shared spaces.

"Then council allows this. It's very frustrating. The planning department needs to start talking to the economic development department, because things have got to change."

Minimum apartment sizes were introduced about 10 years ago, he said.

"Perhaps we need to do something similar for retail space. You have to wonder the legitimacy of some of these businesses too.

"Sometimes it's more about getting a migrant visa, than creating a sustainable business."

Christopher Dempsey, a Waitemata Local Board member, said he was also worried but more about the uniform tiny shops rather than their goods.

"I've expressed my concerns to the planners because this issue is not new," Dempsey said.

"I want small, medium and large shops. The horrible thing is there's no provision in the district plan to demand this," he said.

Ludo Campbell-Reid, the council urban design champion, does not want the civic vision spoiled.

"The mayor and I are determined to see the revival of the high street occur in Auckland and are interested in overcoming any perceived or real barriers to achieving this," he said.

Retail experts are also worrying about the tiny shops. Big malls at Albany, Sylvia Park and St Lukes have the potential to add an extra 10ha or 100,000sq m, they say.

So the rise of hundreds of tiny shops throughout buildings past the Whitcoulls corner at Victoria St has also led to them wondering whether some stores were being operated for immigration purposes.

Small-format retailers are paying more than $1000/sq m compared to bulk retailers paying around $200/sq m so the experts see a huge economic impetus for the further spread of the tiny shops because of the higher returns to building owners.

"You're going to lose any reason for coming to Queen St," one expert said. "This is leading to a degradation of the retail environment. Council has to put limits based on shop size."

Of particular concern is the new Queen St Markets where many shops stand empty on various floor levels, even just above ground floor. But Alan Copeman, managing tenancies in what was the MidCity Cinema centre, encouraged patience.

"We've only been here [seven] weeks and we will make it a destination," Copeman said, comparing the development to popular markets in Sydney and Melbourne.

Immigration New Zealand allows migrants to enter the country under its long-term business category but a spokesman said restrictions applied and these included showing a profit after two years and sometimes employing New Zealanders.

An initial nine-month work visa allows migrants to establish a business but they must show reasonable progress in getting established, the department says.

ON GOLDEN MILE

* Queen St markets, 92 shops, 239 Queen St (old MidCity Cinema).
* Queens Court, 370 Queen St, under development, 60 shops.
* Atrium on Elliott, many small tenancies.
* The Strand, between Queen and Elliott Sts, ground-floor shops.
* Queens Head Tavern, 42-shop arcade, now being leased.

- NZ Herald

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