There's a storm brewing in Te Puke and at its centre are comments made by a local councillor. In a Local Focus interview last week, Mike Lally said that Te Puke wasn't a destination town.

But local business-owners have come forward to say that's simply not the case.

"Councillor Lally talked about Te Puke being a service town, which I don't dispute," Mark Boyle of Te Puke Economic Development Group said.

"But he didn't paint an accurate picture that Te Puke is actually a very successful, viable, vibrant, commercial hub which has a high degree of destination shopping and destination services.

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Many locals echoed Boyle's views on the Bay of Plenty Times Facebook page, admonishing Councillor Lally for his lack of enthusiasm for Te Puke.

"We're not in the shadow of the neighbouring city, we're not a place of interest that people want to visit," Boyle said. "We're actually a stand-alone, viable entity with a very long history, very proud history, and we're the epicentre of the kiwifruit industry which is an economic engine, not only for the Bay of Plenty but also for New Zealand with a significant contribution to our GDP."

Lally complained about more shops closing down in Te Puke, but Boyle says that vacant shops are never left empty for long.

"Business come and businesses go. The vacancy rates in the town centre are very low. Generally speaking, if something becomes vacant it fills. There are sometimes two or three stores that may remain vacant for longer periods but if you walk along the main street of Te Puke, and the side streets, you are not overwhelmed with an image that the place has vacant shops and it's dying.

"I think to prove that Te Puke is of interest, there are a couple of exciting new things on the horizon. We had a large vacant shop here and by the end of this year there will be three new retail outlets and some office facilities inside."

Many retailers agree. Maree Cooper bought Street 2 Surf Clothing 18 months ago and firmly believes that for her customers, Te Puke is a destination.

"Knowing how much I've grown this business in the last 18 months, I don't know where those comments came from. I have repeat customers who come to Te Puke specially to shop with us.

"I had ladies that come from Katikati. Just as of last week, we had four ladies come from Rotorua who are now in our loyalty programme and will be repeat customers. And we have a lot of those customers."

Local florist Murray Howell has been in business over 25 years, with customers coming from far and wide.

"I've stayed in Te Puke for 25 years because I value the clients, they've treated me really well. I find it a loyal town.

"I've got clients that come from Pāpāmoa, Tauranga, Whakatane and Rotorua. When they're travelling through, they'll divert from the bypass and come through into town to shop.

"We might not have all the high cafes and restaurants that the Mount has but we certainly have a broad spectrum of good businesses that people can come to."

"Busy, alive and happening," is how Boyle describes Te Puke. "It's not in decline – it's in growth. It's indisputable."

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