Earlier tonight I hopped off the tram in Gungahlin with a mission in mind—a stop at my preferred Chinese grocer to pick up lap cheong, frozen dumplings and maybe something snacky.
I was crossing the Gungahlin Place concourse headed towards Efkarpidis Street when something caught my attention and I stopped. The lights were off. The doors were closed (and bolted). And cheerily from the early evening darkened shopfront, huge stickers screamed that a new shopping opportunity is coming soon.
And in that moment, I realised that it had happened again—another small business had closed its doors in Canberra.
I have lived here for all of my adult life, and I can honestly say that I have never noticed more empty shopfronts than I have in the past six to 12 months. At the time I am writing this, a brief search of three popular real estate websites shows between 215-389 commercial properties available across our five town centres. Almost 400 new shopping opportunities coming soon.
But I don’t want a new shopportunity, and I don’t think you do either.
We’re told that Canberra has a growing population and that we need more infrastructure to support that growth. We’re seeing new developments pop up all over the place, more in our town centres than ever before, and all of them with commercial spaces beneath with more giant stickers and more exciting shopportunities.
But there is a disconnect somewhere along that pipeline because half of these storefronts will never have the stickers taken off. Of the lucky few that do get taken off the market and filled with new stores, many will fail in their first 12 months. And so what we have instead is this vast collection of empty shops that is only growing with each day that passes. So how do we make sure these vacancies stop here?
Canberra is an amazing city and we have so much potential to support amazing small businesses as they pop up throughout our beautiful city. But we’re also a brutal audience when it comes to supporting these new ventures.
I think I could rattle off a laundry list of small Canberra businesses that I knew and loved and thought would stand the test of time, all of which have either now closed or moved purely online. And truthfully, we’re talking about stores that I only occasionally frequented and didn’t support anywhere near as much as I could and should have.
I know that sounds a bit cliché, ripped from the battle cry of Buy from the Bush or similar, and you might be thinking to yourself that I have no actual skin in the game (and no understanding of the complexities of our commercial property market).
But the thing is, I do have skin in this game. I am an upwardly mobile middle-aged gay man with a modest disposable income that a lifetime of anxiety and inferiority issues dictates I must spend on shiny trinkets that tickle my fancy.
I don’t know about you, but I want more for our beautiful city than the promise of more shops to come.
To that end, I am making a concerted effort to keep my business local, especially during winter when so many of us are staying at home and not venturing out to shop or eat (while half of Canberra is apparently in Europe living their best lives!). And I thought I would share four Canberra businesses that I am really excited about right now.
A little corner of Myeongdong cool tucked away in Braddon, Koji has recently reopened in the Ori building, bringing Korean streetwear, skincare and accessories with them!
This hole-in-the-wall eatery in Gungahlin has got a hold on me. All the food I have tried is excellent, but the fried squid tentacles, the cumin beef and the stir-fried eggs and garlic shoots all deserve a mention.
Peddling records, skateboards and clothing, the new dedicated retail store for the Church team is offering such a refreshing addition to the CBD retail landscape.
I am really trying to be a Pilates babe, and Jordana and her team are making it that much easier for me with rewarding classes and great vibes. My favourite is the Tower class on a Saturday morning.
The good news is, we’re not powerless in this—we can put our money where our mouths are and support our small Canberra businesses to keep them open.
Local businesses need our support to thrive and to continue to enrich our wonderful city, and we can do that by going a little out of our way to spend where we can do the most good.
I know that there are local businesses that I haven’t listed here, and there’s likely a tonne that I don’t know of yet (but would love to discover). So just like I’ve shared some of my favourite local businesses with you, I would love for you to share yours below as well!
Sound off in the comments below where you’re supporting this winter.