I live in a town that has traditionally been a place of independent store owners. Businesses that have been run by generations of shopkeepers and tradesmen, where everyone knows your name and shop fitouts are of an indeterminate age.
About ten years ago things began to change. The ''big guns'' came to town - the Warehouse and its ilk, and of course we saw the birth of the sometimes described scourge known as the $2 shop. There was an influx of national chains, mainly clothing and stationery. There were cafes opening on every corner too and some of the long time retailers shut up shop. Farmers closed its tired old store. As did Hallensteins. The shops who appear in malls declined to come. Things were looking grim. A large format development was started on the outskirts of town. McDonalds and several other takeaways turned up.
Fast forward on and we are now in a state of flux. This month, there are 7 empty stores on the main street - all independent retailers that have shut down. It sounds bad. In some ways it IS bad. But there's a hidden side to this story.
One of those retailers has moved to a premise 3 times the size of his previous building. Another national chain has come to town and taken the old space. Three new large businesses have come to town. The stores that were high prices, low value or low volume are finding it hard to compete - but the big shops ensure that our town is now competitive with the city just up the road. And surely the fact that big players are coming here - employing locally, spending a heap on a shop fitout, and giving a streamlined look to our retail strip - suggests that they believe our town is worth investing in?
Sure, there's lots of vintage/second hand/op shops. There's more than our fair share of cheap imported goods shops. There's lots of low cost takeaway outlets. But there's also plenty of boutiques, expensive hairdressers and gorgeous gift shops too.
Today GrabOne presented to a group of businesses. We sat in a fantastic restaurant, eating great food and hearing about some real success stories - mainly, but not only, in retail, around New Zealand. Then we talked about our upcoming Christmas parade, in which we expect 60 floats, and about 5000 people to come and enjoy.
Seems to me the economy is not as grim as one might believe. It's all about perspective.