the DISAPPEARING suburbs
Lower North Shore retail trade is suffering a massive blow thanks to a mixture of David and Goliath struggles, sky-high rents and a volatile and unpredictable consumer market.
Driving through just one kilometre stretch of Military Rd, from Mosman Junction to Spit Junction, North Shore Living recently registered at least 12 newly-vacant shops, with many others displaying prominent 'For Lease' signs.
After a decade at the helm of one of the most successful, high-end lower North Shore retail outlets, John Sturrock, owner of Sturrocks, says it's time to throw in the towel.
During the last 10 years he has marketed his specialist yachting and sailing merchandise from a shop on the corner of Military and Spit Roads, in a prime real estate location.
But he says continued high rents, erratic consumer behaviour and customer online trading have cemented his decision to concentrate on online sales and scale back to one retail outlet in the Eastern Suburbs.
"We are closing because my rent is very expensive," Mr Sturrock tells North Shore Living. "It's too much and it's been significant after the GFC of 2008. Our products are produced overseas and are heavily influenced by exchange rates.
"Consumers are coming in to try goods on and then buying online, so we will concentrate on Internet sales in the future."
He joins a string of other businesses in Mosman, Cremorne, Neutral Bay and Artarmon who are also closing their doors; some others are moving into existing empty shops, where the turnover rate is high, but often then close shortly afterwards as the same problems surface.
At the same time, along the same stretch of road, 35 coffee shops and cafes, with a quick customer turnaround using disposable incomes, have popped up, replacing high-end specialty retailers.
"The dollar items are under pressure from online sales,” Mr Sturrock adds, “In particular, imported and specialty products. These days the reality is, If buyers think they can save money, they will.”
Meanwhile, giant retailer Woolworths has won another battle in the Land and Environment Court to install a Dan Murphy's liquor store at 718-728 Military Road, on the ground floor of the new Marque residential complex.
But Mosman deputy mayor Carolyn Corrigan, councillor Roy Bendall and lobby group spokeswoman Karen Wiltshire say the battle is still far from settled, with the community and council vehemently opposed to the oversized development.
“It's been a David and Goliath struggle,” Cr Corrigan tells North Shore Living. “We have small boutique liquor stores along this precinct that will lose business and possibly close if Dan Murphy's goes ahead.
"We are seeing the big corporates who want to take over; traffic will be shocking and cars and delivery trucks gridlocked. This is just not the place for this development. I don't think the residents who paid $3-$4 million for a unit upstairs will be very happy with a cheap grog shop downstairs."
Cr Bendall says Dan Murphy's stores are usually located on six-lane highways with underground parking. "It's a completely inappropriate site," he explains, "and despite the recent court win, the company still needs to have a liquor licence approved."
Ms Wiltshire claims the over-development will result in hundreds of additional car movements per day along the narrow stretch of Military Road, and up to 10 trucks delivering alcohol daily in a narrow back lane.
"It's completely ridiculous," she says, explaining how retailers are struggling to pay rents, insisting the last thing the area needs is a corporate take-over which will add to customer parking problems and destroy the village atmosphere.
Cr Bendall says owners and agents in the area are waiting for unrealistic rents of up to $5,000 a week on small shops, which result in properties remaining vacant for long periods of time.
Robert Simeon, director of Richardson & Wrench, Mosman and Neutral Bay, also confirms the village landscape is constantly changing, explaining how every five years, new business models emerge - and retailers have to be very savvy, needing much more than just a pretty shop front to survive.
"What we are seeing is governments driving high-density living in the suburbs where the new developments are combining all three therapies, residential, retail and commercial," he says.
"What this does is drive the community on a 24-hour cycle, with the residential component kicking in after dark. This will help drive community drive and buzz, but the downside is that many businesses will have to reinvent themselves because innovation has never been as strong as it is today."