Does everything have to be a case of out with the old, in with the new?
In his Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes’ grey-haired anti-hero takes the train to London for a spot of shopping. On his list? Cord for restringing blind, kettle descaler and those patches you iron on to trousers when the fabric wears thin.
”It’s hard to find this stuff locally any more,” moans the character, Tony Webster. ”Where I live, most of the useful little shops have long been turned into cafes or estate agents.”
Ditto. Where I live – a working-class suburb turned beachside resort south of Sydney – there are eight real estate agents, seven cafes and five Thai restaurants in a one kilometre stretch. Miraculously, the hardware store survives, jammed between designer boutiques and homewares stores.
If blind restringing cord sounds difficult, then try finding someone to repair a Parker pen. Or a cobbler. Not your shopping mall shoe repair man, but a skilled craftsman.
”They’re soft,” murmurs owner Yvonne Atollah. ”Beautiful to walk in.”
With her coiffured blonde hair and smart grey suit, Attolah seems much younger than her 70-something years. The family has owned the store for 50 years, though the business itself opened in the late 1940s and is the oldest in the arcade. Yvonne’s husband inherited the trade from his father in Lebanon and their son, Paul, works there too. Clients range from very young to very old. More men and more young women are coming in.
”Anywhere from about 25 up,” says Atollah. ”They’re buying more expensive shoes than they ever did so they are caring for them more.”
However, she does not expect a revival of cobbling or millinery. ”It’s hard work and not many people want to work hard for their money any more,” she says.
The city’s shopping arcades were once full of hole-in-the-wall shops where busy craftspeople plied their trades. Today the artisans are all but gone – crippled by cheap imports and consumers’ insatiable appetite for disposable goods.
Retail property research specialist Tony Dimasi has spent 30 years watching the retail sector. He says shoppers became disenchanted with bricks and mortar stores at the same time the Australian dollar hit record highs. He says shopping online is all about ”the thrill of the chase”. ”We take pleasure in finding the right item at the right price, or getting an unexpected bargain.”
In the meantime, small specialty retailers have gradually disappeared, heirloom artifacts usually only found in high-end shopping strips.
”Where you might once have had two or three little dress shops in a smaller location, that doesn’t happen any more,” Dimasi says. ”Those sorts of retailers were very good at what they did and they put their whole lives into it. Retailing was a proud profession and there’s not many of those people around any more. Also, people are time poor and the bigger shopping locations become the first port of call.”
MacroPlan’s experienced and qualified retail economists work across Australia and New Zealand. Contact Tony Dimasi today to discuss your retail property research requirements.