WARRNAMBOOL’S “golden mile” shopping strip, Liebig Street, is showing signs of losing its shine as the list of vacant shops in the high street grows longer by the week.
There are now five prime spots without tenants between Koroit and Lava streets and a further two are to close in a month.
As well, there are three empty premises in an arcade leading off Liebig Street, with rumours of more businesses to join the exodus.
One business community source has counted almost 60 vacant spots in the entire central business district.
Tighter economic times, inflexible absentee landlords charging high rents, competition from internet trading, parking restrictions and traders looking to retirement are some of the reasons given.
It’s a similar issue in Hamilton, where there are more than 15 empty CBD shops.
The closures show another side to the often-touted rosy picture of the south-west as a thriving investment hub.
Retailing nationally has gone into slow gear after boom times came to an abrupt halt about a year ago. Many Warrnambool traders are reportedly struggling to make profits and pay high rents.
Commercial leasing agent David Turner said there was a retail revolution under way and a changing of the guard in central Warrnambool.
“Sites once much in favour have fallen out of favour and business models are changing,” he said.
He and several traders contacted by The Standard put some of the blame on absentee landlords who showed little interest in modernising their premises or adjusting the rent.
Many traders in the central Liebig Street strip are paying at least $1000 a week just on their lease and some have battled for years to have plumbing and other crucial infrastructure repaired.
Mayor Jacinta Ermacora said the city had weathered many challenges in its 150-plus-year history and would survive this latest change.
“Deals are being done where landlords are willing to accommodate the needs,” Mr Turner said.
“Some landlords need to modernise and take more interest in their tenant’s needs.
“If it says your rent is too high or your shops are too run down traders will look elsewhere.
“Just like shoppers, retailers will vote with their feet.”
Jewellery shop operator Elvi Harris will close her business by early March because she says income is not matching the high rent and overheads.
“Some landlords seem to just enjoy reaping the money without contributing,” she said.
“They are not in touch with reality.
“There are also external influences with the internet playing a minor part.
“We, the community and retailers, all need to work together.”
Terri Kramm said she decided to close Liebig Street Central Newsagency last Saturday after 20 years to consolidate into her Timor Street newsagency.
“Our reasons were the cost of rent and retirement age for Joe Willis who had operated Liebig Street full-time for the past 15 years,” Ms Kramm said. “We find parking is much better on Timor Street.
“I think there needs to be a wake-up call for property investors and landlords to be more sensitive to the economic environment.
“However, in our case we had a good relationship with our landlord who sent us a thank you letter.”
Book City operator Jim Bell aims to close at the end of February after almost 15 years running the business with his wife Ann.
“It’s been full-on running the shop seven days a week so we decided to take the opportunity and retire and spend more time with the family,” Mr Bell said.
“We don’t intend signing on for another five years of the lease.
“Things have certainly changed in the business world since we came in.”