11 September 2019

Empty shops & high unemployment, will Saturday change that for Batemans Bay?

| Elise Searson
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Sylvie Siteaud outside her business north of the Batemans Bay CBD. Photos: Elise Searson.

Imagine taking the left turn off the bridge onto Orient Street in Batemans Bay for the first time, to one side there’s one of the most spectacular views of the water in town while the other is lined with a haunting amount of vacant shops. I stopped counting after eight.

Across the river, just north of the town’s commercial heart, the plight of the Maloneys Beach Cafe & Cellar perhaps points to some of the issues at play locally. Owners Sylvie and Pascal Siteaud dreamt of selling the business they moved from France to start eight years ago.

“The lessors (landlords) were great at the beginning because we did all the painting and renovations, they haven’t spent any money on this property in eight years,” Mrs Siteaud says.

Mrs and Mr Siteaud had a couple of eager buyers sign contracts to buy their business, they were retracted after the landlords increased the rent.

The Maloneys Beach shop is closing in June.

“They made it impossible for us to sell, every potential buyer pulled out because they were too greedy with rent,”Mrs Siteaud says.

“We pay $4,100 per month. This is more rent than most shops in Stocklands Mall in town.”

Sylvie Siteaud.

The rent has increased 6% every year which Mrs Siteaud says is much higher than the CPI of 1.5%.

After the owners refused an evaluation, the Siteaud’s booked their own through their solicitor leading to a decrease in rent and an even more fractured relationship with their Sydney landlords.

Region Media did approach the Siteaud’s landlord for comment, keen to share their perspective, we have not received a response.

The future of the Maloney’s Beach shop is unknown, however, Sylvie and Pascal Siteaud are counting down the weeks to their June closure.

Pascal Siteaud.

“We will be very relieved and can’t wait for the closing party, I have a new job as a function and event manager for a motel in town. The future is looking bright for me,” Mrs Siteaud says.

The Siteaud’s speak with sadness about the vacant shops that line the Batemans Bay CBD.

“It’s like a ghost town,” Mr Siteaud says.

Maloneys Beach Cafe & Cellar.

Aside from the number of empty businesses, the other number that looms large over Batemans Bay is the unemployment rate – 14.8%.

It doesn’t take much to connect the dots between the two.

One passer-by I spoke to asked where all the shops had gone? While another spoke of seeing the town gradually change over the last eight years.

Anne North and her family are feeling it too, the cost of living increasing beyond wages, her budget getting tighter and tighter, to the point of hardship.

Anne North of Batemans Bay is struggling to make ends meet.

“The empty shops are depressing, it doesn’t give people much hope for our economy,” Ms North says.

Her eyes well with tears as she speaks about who she is voting for, “I am voting Labor because we need them to fix this,” she says with huge hopes.

Vacant shops in Orient Street Batemans Bay.

“I was casual for three years down the road here, we worked 7-hour shifts with only one 15 minute break, we worked like slaves,” Ms North says.

“Our boss guilted us to work harder by saying she hocked her jewellery just to pay our wage.”

Ms North is 61 next week and on Newstart. “I don’t know where I’m going to get a job in this town at my age.”

She wants big companies to stop getting everything, “it’s absolute greed, greed, greed.”

Pre-poll voting on Orient Street Batemans Bay.

All the major parties talk of small business being the engine room of the Australian economy and point to different and competing ideas to support the sector and create jobs.

Let’s hope Saturday delivers the spark Batemans Bay needs to support people like Anne North, and Sylvie and Pascal Siteaud. In regional towns like mine, our futures are connected and dependent on each other, we succeed and fail together.

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It seems to be that some landlords would prefer their properties remain empty, hoping for huge rent prices, rather than get a decent regular tenant at a lesser amount.

Labor will not solve BATEMANS Bay’s problems. If anything, the switch in government will make the situation worse. If Ms North is struggling to live now, imagine what impact the Labor party policies will do to her situation, not to mention our town. Finally, the empty shop syndrome is happening in every town across the state, not just here.

david campbell8:14 pm 17 May 19

Employment in coastal areas is always up and down ,not enough visitors in winter so people get reduced hours, lot of greedy landlords that get tax benefits for having empty shops, and the area attracts certain work shy people .not sure if either party can fix the problem, and why do we always look to government to fix it for us,if I could not get work here I would move to where work is , but not all have same idea

I have never seen so many empty shops around Batemans Bay. We are a wealthy country… how can we have an unemployment rate of 14.8%? Clearly the economy is not working for everyone.

SO totally agree a sad plight for not only the small business owners, but those needing employment. Rent greed when does it stop. When is there going to be some sense. I hate the forlon look and feel to our township.

Elke Cavicchiolo11:02 am 17 May 19

I try and avoid going left as it’s so depressing

This problem is growing; Eden has suffered for many years since the fishing and timber industries were severely reduced. Tourism simply can’t replace those sort of employment opportunities. We don’t seem to be the clever country any more. We need to use our resources and value add ourselves rather than export it all and have to buy them back. Surely we are capable of developing industry and manufacturing in regional areas. It would be interesting for you to speak to Georgie Staley of Georgies Fine Jewellery. She has stores in a number of towns on the Far South Coast; the Bega one she moved into the Sapphire Market Place and later closed the Eden one. It would be interesting to hear her reasons for the business decisions there. I’m not an economist but maybe some of this problem is driven by the rising cost of living? Electricity and fuel for example increase the cost of everything but also make it more expensive to just survive….and the landlord needs to increase rent to meet the rates and insurance charges??

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