Losing our character

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Rugs in the Forest owner Tanya Franchi-Boath is among business operators confirming closure this week.
Camera IconRugs in the Forest owner Tanya Franchi-Boath is among business operators confirming closure this week. Credit: Warren Hately

The first businesses confirming they will close permanently — and news Target would shut up early next year — this week underlined the looming economic hit to the region from COVID-19.

While Target’s demise will make shopping harder for residents, the closure of Rugs in the Forest, The Good Olive, Margaret River Gallery, Pre-Loved Secondhand Goods, and question marks hanging over several more ventures including wine tours will affect Margaret River’s character.

Rugs in the Forest owner Tanya Franchi-Boath said she would miss the community spirit, how her shop acted as a meeting place, and her many regular customers.

“It’s sad for Margs, but that’s the decision I needed to make,” she said.

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Trade was already tough before the main street redevelopment made life harder, and she made up her mind to close after months of ordering stock and running the shop during the pandemic. “That (street works)just threw my business out,” she said.

The Good Olive’s owner Christine Tomkins said the present economic climate made it too tough to continue.

“There’s lots more in the pipeline, let me tell you,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard for people to keep going.” She said COVID-19 was “the final nail in the coffin” after trading difficulties caused by the downturn and main street works.

Gallery owner Sally Coppin said she would quit her Charles West Avenue site, but move online.

“Although the landlords etc. were great, it’s not realistic with tourism unknown to continue for my small business at this point,” she said. “I think we will see many others close.”

An exhibition would continue her presence at Voyager Estate.

Chamber of Commerce president Melissa d’Ath said she and her committee were “devastated to hear about the ever-increasing list of main street businesses closing their doors”.

“These closures highlight issues that have been major concerns to the chamber for a long time: high rents, online shopping, seasonality, the main street makeover, and to top it off, the extreme financial strain delivered by the COVID-19 health crisis have made remaining open simply unviable for some businesses,” she said.

“We need to make a fundamental shift to thinking local first and supporting those businesses that provide employment, income, volunteers, donations and vibrancy to our town.”

Ms d’Ath and others noted Margaret River “won’t be the same”.

Shire president Ian Earl said the closures were incredibly sad for the community.

It was impossible to avoid the combination of roadworks, a depressed economy, and COVID-19, and he hoped most operators could make it through to Christmas.

“The last couple of years hasn’t been that flash, the main street hasn’t helped, and the coronavirus is the last straw for them,” he said.

“I suspect there’s a lot of businesses under strain, but not just on the main street. This is a very, very tough time.”

Swings Taphouse manager Ian Baverstock said his business would use the rest of 2020 to renovate, and then reopen.

Settlers Liquor sold to new owners in recent weeks, with the store to change name very soon.

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