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Margaret River’s main street under pressure from chain stores, market forces, lack of Government support

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Margaret River business community shares some of the concerns about the critical challenge to the town’s main street as the region continues to grow. 
Camera IconThe Margaret River business community shares some of the concerns about the critical challenge to the town’s main street as the region continues to grow.  Credit: Warren Hately/Augusta-Margaret River Times/Augusta-Margaret River Times

Concerns are rising that the main street of Margaret River will lose its character and wipe out small businesses as more chain stores pop up as the region grows.

The Margaret River business community has echoed concerns voiced by local restaurateur Richard Moroney — who revealed this week he was moving his business Burger Baby off the main street amid claims the Shire’s multi-million dollar redevelopment had lacklustre results.

Mr Moroney said small businesses were on their “last legs,” while more chain stores popped up.

Recently elected Margaret River Chamber of Commerce president Miriam Bailey said greater support was needed for the local business sector as chain stores increasingly dominated.

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“If our main street turns into a ‘chain store’ offering that guests can get not just in Perth, but every major city in Australia, we will lose some of that character which is quintessentially Margaret River,” she told the Times.

“As a community, we need to work together with our main street traders as well as local and State Government to ensure ‘small business’ is not wiped out.”

Mr Moroney said the main strip risked getting overwhelmed by bigger retailers, and the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River had failed to follow through on “activations” promised while businesses weathered 12 months of the redevelopment.

“Importantly, a critical mass of local businesses in the centre of a town brings activity, vibrancy, and distinctive character,” he said.

“Think about the Cappuccino Strip in Fremantle.

“The reality is the real estate investors and national chains have the resources — time, money, bargaining power — that a mum-and-dad business does not,” he said.

“Our local government has decided that small town-decline is inevitable, the result of outside forces and is happening everywhere else in Australia not just Margaret River.”

Local business maven Barbara Maidment backed Mr Moroney’s concerns about the future of the town’s main strip — concerns she first forecast in the Times a decade ago.

The chamber committee member and former Margaret River Business Centre director previously warned inflexibility from landlords on the main street’s high rents and population growth would foment an increase in chain stores, undermining the individuality and character of Margaret River’s offering.

She told the Times this week the ongoing evolution of the main street was keeping true to her concerns from 10 years ago.

“I’ve been concerned with how our main street is evolving for some time,” Dr Maidment said.

“It’s an interesting mix of traditional Aussie country town, which many people love, and the modern evolution of chain stores, reduced parking, and festivals, which many people prefer.”

Ms Bailey said shopping and dining out in Margaret River was part of the allure for visitors, in addition to its natural assets.

Dr Maidment also noted while the region had “worked hard” to build an international reputation from surfing, wine and gourmet tourism, it wrongly gave the impression the Margaret River region was a wealthy enclave.

“It’s not so,” she said.

“Just look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics stats.

“The growth demographics tell us that the make-up of our town is changing. Crime is up, more families on benefits, more vacant dwellings, and so on.”

She said she had no issue with chain stores per se, and Mr Moroney acknowledged consumer choice.

However, Dr Maidment and Mr Moroney said regulators, including State and local government, had to maintain active focus in the face of outside market forces which favoured bigger operators.

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