Hewson's View | Moss Vale takes the top shopping mantle

Retail in Moss Vale is in the ascendancy, while it is in decline in Bowral. A key reason is greedy landlords in Bowral. Rents are simply too high. The recovery in Moss Vale in the last couple of years has been facilitated by more realistic rents.

ON THE UP: The Moss Vale streetscape has been changing and is now full of quirky small businesses. Photo: Jen Walker.

ON THE UP: The Moss Vale streetscape has been changing and is now full of quirky small businesses. Photo: Jen Walker.

This is not just a Highlands problem – it is a feature of struggling retailing more generally – but it is worse in Bowral because of past and continuing landlord (some say overlord) greed.

In recent days, more broadly, we have heard of the demise of the luxury fashion brand Oroton, long a household name in this country and around the world. I clearly remember as a kid, in a lower-to-middle income family, just how much my mum wished for a silver or gold Glomesh bag.

Oroton was recently placed into voluntary administration. Its potential saviour, fund manager, Will Vicars, has made his additional financial support, and potential bail out, conditional on a new deal with landlords to renegotiate onerous lease contracts – which now suck up some 40 percent of sales, when its was only about 20 percent five years ago.

Of course, there are also other reasons for Oroton’s financial difficulties, and the landlords may resist, preferring to attempt to release the space to an alternative retailer. While this may be OK in the bigger retail malls, it is becoming harder and harder in regional centres where retail traffic is flat, at best, other costs such as power are running away, and internet shopping is accelerating fast.

Known retailers, such as Solomon Lew, have also recently carried through on their threats to close shops if landlords won’t adjust their rents.

A disturbing response of our local landlords, faced with increasing turnover of smaller/local retailers, has been to effectively “give up” on the small local retailer by attempting to tie up longer-term leases with major national brands. This in turn is just destroying the character and diversity of the retail that made Bowral an attractive shopping destination and experience, attracting many “tourists” and “shoppers” from Sydney and elsewhere.

The quaint, distinctive, different, and interesting specialist retailers are fast becoming a thing of the past.

If you want to just shop at the national brands you may as well stay in the Sydney CBD, or go to the much larger and varied malls in Campbelltown and Canberra. As it has been said now for some time, Bowral is becoming a small Westfield without a roof – but even the founding Lowy family have sold out.

I am impressed at the recent, rapid, recovery of Moss Vale, and the development of composite retail concepts such as Dirty Jane’s in Bowral, where more realistic rents have been a driving feature of these initiatives.

Moss Vale is fast becoming the shopping “mecca” of the Highlands. The process has been, a key local retailer moves in at scale, then an expanding variety of other, smaller, specialists follow, supported by the Chamber of Commerce, attracting in turn coffee shops and the like.

Moss Vale is fast becoming what Bowral likes to think it still is!

Retailing is one of those areas that have been subjected to major “disruption” in recent years as the internet, and social media, have shifted the landscape dramatically. The response of the “old school” landlord has, mostly, been to attempt to batten down the hatches, and consolidate their client base to the bigger operators, hoping to preserve their gold mine.

But, as Einstein pointed out, to do more of the same, over and over, and to expect different results, is a definition of insanity.

 – John Hewson


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