11 September 2019

Tangle of issues combine to knock Merimbula's mojo

| Elka Wood
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The look and feel of Merimbula's main street is hanging on an 11.2 million grant through the NSW Government's Regional Growth program. Photo: Elka Wood.

The look and feel of Merimbula’s main street is hanging on an 11.2 million grant through the NSW Government’s Regional Growth program. Photo: Elka Wood.

It seems like Merimbula, one of the region’s key tourist towns, is undergoing an identity crisis.

A dozen empty shops are the most obvious symptom and have left people asking why the once-thriving seaside town is struggling.

Bruce Marshall is a Jindabyne-based investor who owns the buildings on the corner of Main and Market Streets in Merimbula. His property extends from the empty building which was last home to Waves restaurant all the way up to the old Woolworths.

“Why did I buy the Woolworths building?” Bruce asks, amused, “it was cheap because there is a perceived oversupply of retail buildings in Merimbula.”

Bruce, like so many, is not sure if Merimbula will ever return to its former popularity as a shopping destination, especially with Pambula to the south and Tura Beach to the north growing strong and developing their own specialties.

The number of empty shops along Market Street has been blamed partly on the new Woolworths building having a rear entry. Photo: Elka Wood.

The number of empty shops along Market Street has been blamed partly on the new Woolworths building having a rear entry. Photo: Elka Wood.

After three years of trading, clothing and homewares retailer Simone Villarroel closed the doors of her Merimbula shop front, ‘Pretty On The Inside’, on June 29. She puts the closure down to a low summer season last year.

“A lot of tourists I would see on a regular holiday basis stopped coming. The feedback I received was that the cost of accommodation in Merimbula was too high and that their families could go on holiday overseas for cheaper – people’s expectations of their holidays have changed.”

Simone’s decision leaves another empty shop in the CBD, adding to the anxiety some are feeling about their town.

High retail rents and speculation that having empty shops is somehow advantageous and provides a tax break for wealthy investors have been part of the local conversation.

A spokesperson for the Australian Taxation Office says “a loss is a loss. If you are losing money on a property, it’s unlikely you would be able to offset that at the end of the financial year, even if negatively gearing against other assets.”

Bruce Marshall says that the idea that landlords benefit from empty shops is laughable.

“Everything is negotiable and if someone comes to me with an idea, I might back it.”

Merimbula has so much to offer tourists. Photo: Merimbula Visitor Information Centre Facebook.

Merimbula has so much to offer tourists. Photo: Merimbula Visitor Information Centre Facebook.

Bega Valley Shire Council has been criticised for not anticipating and planning for the impact that developments around Merimbula have had.

In a letter to the chamber of commerce, landlord Robert Green wrote “when the Council allowed Tura to be enlarged as a shopping centre and Woolworths to add 20,000 sqm of retail space to the district, it created a major problem for retailers in the Shire and especially in Merimbula. There is now far more retail space in the Shire than there is demand for it.”

Bega Valley Deputy Mayor, Mitchell Nadin, lives in Merimbula and has also owned a small business in the town, ‘Dulcie’s’, which he sold about 18 months ago.

“Merimbula is not unique in having these problems,” Cr Nadin says “we are very concerned about supporting economic development shire-wide.”

Cr Nadin has a few ideas about how to beautify the main street and make traffic flow work better for small businesses.

“Right now, we essentially have a four-lane highway running down the main street. We have to make our shopping district more attractive for people to stop and walk around, we need more green space and we need to bury the powerline running down market street.”

Putting the power line underground would mean more scope for trees and greenery along Market Street. Photo: Elka Wood.

Putting the power line underground would mean more scope for trees and greenery along Market Street. Photo: Elka Wood.

Where to find the funds to do this work remains unanswered. Earlier this year, council applied for an $11.2 million grant from the Growing Local Economies Fund, part of the NSW Government’s $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund.

A spokesperson for Member for Bega, Andrew Constance reports that the submission’s status is currently pending.

$11 million would do a lot for Merimbula’s morale but in the meantime, Cr Nadin says that council needs to put together some options for the public to consider and attack the problem from every angle, in stages if necessary, as the budget allows.

Lynn McColl, President of the Merimbula Chamber Of Commerce, sees lots of potential.

“Merimbula is a beautiful place an hour flight from Sydney and Melbourne but we cannot afford to be complacent. We must raise the standard of retail, hospitality, accommodation, marketing and promotions and especially our online presence in the Bega Valley Shire to maintain a competitive edge in a global market.”

As the push for a Bunnings Warehouse in Tura Beach continues, Merimbula’s struggle to balance its growth with staying a place that people want to live and do business isn’t over yet.

“Things change,” Bruce Marshall says thoughtfully “Merimbula’s population is still growing, will it grow back into itself? It’s a bloody good question.”

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We need a nice new Pub, With a roof-top beer garden and a decent cook. Greasy Pub food is a thing of the past!! The Lakview is derelict. Interested Justin?????? A “Big W” or “K Mart” type shop would be an advantage esp. if Bunnings is going to Bega. But, as in Bega, it will hurt small businesses. The Wolumla sub-division should help to boost Merimbula business a bit. Parking is awful if you need to go to the Post Office or NAB. A decent Bakery or a Bakers Delight would be good.

A decent walkway from short point to long point, for starters would be good for people to whale watch. That is our draw card in winter months. It would also give tourists and locals some where to walk and enjoy the the views while exercising. It would be another activity for tourists. A lot of money has been spent on that bike track in Tathra. Why not spend on a walk way with a few look-outs,doesn’t need to be as elaborate as the Tathra small one down to the wharf, but some thing for people to enjoy the area. Other areas have them( Tuross Heads, even Eden). Merimbula would greatly benefit from this sort of walk way. The board walk also needs upgrading.

We went to Merimbula for our Christmas holidays for 19 years, always arriving on Box Day for 2 weeks.
2 years ago we stopped going as the accommodation just kept going up and nothing in the apartment had changed for at least 10 years.The apartment wasn’t 4 or 5 star, there wasn’t even a pool. We payed $4600 for the 2 weeks.
Last week we stopped there for 3 days and you could of fired shots in the street it was dead and no one around and there are empty shops everywhere. I think the only way to attract families back to the town would be to lower the rent on holiday accommodation. We took our children to Queensland this Christmas for 2 weeks and the accommodation was cheaper.
I think they really need to do something as the town is slowly dying.

Maybe if landlords dropped their rents to what the market can afford there would be less empty shops. The problem isn’t so much an oversupply of retail space but existing businesses closing and new businesses are not replacing those. The reason is that commercial rents are far too high.

Merimbula could get rid of the shops on the promenade, demolish those buildings and open up that view of the lake. It’s played second fiddle to commerce for more than a quarter of a century. A waterfront park could be developed along there. Those businesses could move into the empty shops.

Carmel Smith7:00 pm 25 Jul 19

Totally agree Merimbula needs to be more gardens more trees to beautify ! Why don’t we have Christmas decorations in the main areas of Merimbula ? Decorate the bridge !! Everyone walking from fishpen to town !! Going to the New Years celebrations!!! What a beautiful walk over it could be !! Where the ice creamy is why can’t we have a beautiful big Christmas tree there which light up over the holidays ? Why not have Santa visiting ? Locals and visitors would love it !! Lift moral !!
It would actual feel like Christmas time ! At the moment
I find it like Scrooge town over the holidays let alone at every other day ! And the huge new round about near the police station should have palm trees and green space ! It looks hard and boring ! To attract people you must put out the honey to bring the bees !!!!
We live in such a absolutely gorgeous part of this country ! We need to get Merimbula to be a happy colourful place to visit and live !!! Where can people who want to help go eg : where are meetings ?
As Councillor Nadin there is so much potential.
At the moment Merimbula looks tired old ghost town 👻

The beautiful village is becoming an ugly, noisy, copy of the city. The cruise 🚢 boat passengers say it well. “We’re over high rise”. They love Eden for it’s village quaintness and gorgeous, unique animals.

Bronwyn Wright11:05 am 26 Jul 19

Agree. Love EDEN cos it’s still a country town.

Marianne Kambouridis7:51 pm 23 Jul 19

We are oversupplied with retail outlets. This is only the beginning of a huge kick in the materialistic world. People are sick of buying rubbish, trinkets and ‘stuff’ that only gathers dust. Once you factor in the ridiculous rent for these shops, it’s not surprising that they are closing down. There is only so much one can buy before one decides to get off the materialistic round a bout.

gael vanderdrift4:44 pm 23 Jul 19

So many factors to consider but after years in retail in Merimbula one of the most frustrating things to see week in and week out including the hype of our season is the retail outlets that are closed by 2pm on the weekends and those not operating on a Sunday. If tourists arrive in a town which is usually a Saturday and take a walk around to check things out and see only a handful of shop open i doubt their holiday experience is off to a positive start.

Madeleine Chsleyer10:08 pm 22 Jul 19

Yes Merimbula is beautiful. But I still don’t understand why a the road changes could not have been better thought out, mate an attractive roundabout could have been used, instead we a have a charming coastal village with a massive concrete intersection. A walking street would be great, they’re everywhere in Europe, access by vehicles is limited for deliveries to shops, bicycles & scooters can be encouraged with defined cycle ways throughout the town. Please can we have some town planning with vision

Richard Barcham4:06 pm 22 Jul 19

The shire needs to broaden its tourism appeal beyond caravan parks and units. As an industry, we are still in the 1970s.

Have lived in Merimbula for forty years. Let’s not be too negative, our town has it all.
Locals please stop buying on line, support your Local retailers buy everything you need in Merimbula.
I think flags would be a great pick up visually, adds colour and movement. Bali flags are colourful and cheap.
Be positive it is contagious. Hope the press doesn’t get into negative mode as this does not help.
Landlords consider your tenants, lower rent if you can. A smaller rent is better than none at all!
As a community support our town as it is a great place.

Well I think it all started when the most recent bypass went through cutting off customers to local
Shops , and the tourists well they just go up the bypass and straight out of town .
Somehow the town needs to attract new business to make it viable , then worry about street scaping .
If you have a nice street with not many shops what’s the point , you need to encourage new retailers by offering cheap rent as an example ,
I’m just not sure 🤔 but try and fix it before it’s all to late .

Elke Cavicchiolo11:22 am 22 Jul 19

A very similar problem to Batemans Bay with so many empty shops its depressing

Mark Dickinson7:33 am 22 Jul 19

A similar thing is happening in Batemans Bay. I don’t know how true this is but we were told that Superannuation funds value a property that they invest in by using the rent charged. Apparently the Eurobodalla Council’s super fund invested some years ago in the shopping centres in Batemans Bay and they are afraid to lower the rent as it may affect the valuation of their investment.

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