Matthew Martin is a senior reporter at the Rotorua Daily Post

More empty shops in central city

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Anne Arkwright, co-owner of Exotic Imports, has just moved into a new site on Hinemoa St.
Anne Arkwright, co-owner of Exotic Imports, has just moved into a new site on Hinemoa St.

A small increase in the number of vacant shops in Rotorua's CBD is not an issue for the city's leaders who say there is still work to be done to fill the city with quality options for shoppers.

The Rotorua Daily Post has again surveyed the area bordered by Fenton, Arawa, Amohia and Amohau Sts (inclusive), counting the vacant shops.

In May 2009, there were 50. By September 2013 that number had risen to 98, including units in the arcade under the Royal Court Apartments.

Since the last Rotorua Lakes Council election in October 2013 a number of changes have been made that were designed to revitalise the inner city, including the partial demolition of the City Focus, the creation of the Green Corridor, parking changes, installation of artworks and murals, and changes to intersections and seating arrangements.

In January this year, our count revealed 61 empty shops plus 17 in the Royal Court arcade, a total of 78 - 20 fewer than in September 2013.

This week, our count revealed 84 empty shops - 68 around the city and 16 in the arcade - six more than in January.

The count does not include Rotorua Central Mall.

Amohia St appeared completely full with no space available, however Hinemoa St was a different story with a total of 16 empty sites.

Council inner-city portfolio leader and councillor Karen Hunt said Hinemoa St had been a problem for about 15 years and she was well aware it needed some attention.

"We know Hinemoa has been a long-standing problem prior to any work happening on the street.

"We are expecting the refurbishment of the heart of the city to help that space and within six months or a year we will know if we have started to turn the tide and see Hinemoa as a positive street with very few vacancies.

"But I'm delighted that Amohia, Amohau and Haupapa streets were showing positive signs of change."

She said retailers were recognising there were advantages over the increasing trend in internet shopping and if they provided "a beautiful, stimulating, clean and engaging environment they will draw customers in and this is evidenced by the offering on Tutanekai St".

"Other businesses will follow and lift their own game both in service and in presentation. We want to taste, we want to smell, we want to touch, and that's an experience we can't get with a click of a button.

"The mall is fabulous at what it does, but we have room for many styles of shopping experiences which is what the shopper on foot or bicycle is looking for."

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Darrin Walsh said the situation was not too dissimilar to what other cities faced and the council was not the only organisation trying to breath new life into the CBD.

"It's not uncommon for business to migrate out of the CBD - we have seen this trend nationally with many retail brand stores moving into malls rather than the old fashioned strip shopping.

"This is easier for customers to find parks and have all the big national brand stores in one location.

"We have also seen retail centres at the Redwoods and Fairy Springs open that have dragged retailers out to those sites."

He said the City Focus being opened may well help drag businesses back to Hinemoa St.

"The upper end of Hinemoa St is a ghost town and now that there is through traffic hopefully it will drag retailers back.

"Do we pull some of the empty shops down and put in apartments? This will then open itself to shops opening to capture this market.

"Theme some of the blocks - China town or a Maori themed block that pulls the tourists into town.

"But, business attraction is not solely a council role - the chamber recently launched its strategic plan and we will play a bigger role in this regard.

"I believe this council has done a good job attracting business to Rotorua, but it is more an issue of where they choose to locate," Mr Walsh said.

Exotic Imports co-owner Anne Arkwright said she and husband Brendon had just opened up again on Hinemoa St after moving from their old site on Eruera St.

Mrs Arkwright said they owned the building they moved into - the site of the old Kiwi Spirit bar. They had difficulty finding a new tenant and were not keen to pay rates on an empty building and rent at their old shop.

"We had a lot of interest in the building but we couldn't get a tenant because of the issue of a lack of car parking out front.

"It's an awesome character building so we thought it would be a good move and since we just got two new containers of stock in from Mexico and India we also needed a lot more space.

"We hope it works out at this site, but we are hoping the council will have a change of heart and put some car parks back in," she said.

Dorial Plus Size Clothing owner Doris Elliot has in the last nine weeks moved from running her business part-time in Ngongotaha to opening a shop on Eruera St.

"Since people have found out I'm here business has been quite good. But, I'm not here to make a profit, I just want to help people feel good about themselves.

"It's really hard finding clothes for larger people that don't cost too much. I found it hard for myself."

Mrs Elliot said she had customers coming from as far away as Hamilton, Tauranga, Whakatane and Opotiki.

"We sat down and thought really hard about what we wanted to do - put it in a shed in Ngongotaha or move into a shop in Rotorua. We had to be central so we ended up here and it's been picking up."

She said she was making enough to pay the bills, but she was not concerned as long as people were leaving her store with a smile on their faces.

"I took a big chance. And I'm thinking about opening another shop for plus size bridal wear in the future."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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