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Whatever has happened to the Downer shops?

By 5 May 2009 42

[First filed: May 05, 2009 @ 09:05]

Back in 1988 quite a bit of bicentennial money was spent on the Downer shops. A very nice precinct was created, almost like a monastic cloister.

Having lived in Downer a couple of times it was something I really appreciated.

Over the years the fortunes of the shops has waxed and and waned. It’s had bike shops, take-aways, a rather good indian restaurant, and a very handy supermarket.

Only there’s nothing there at all these days. It’s all boarded up.

Some of you will say that’s the result of changing demographics, market forces, and proximity to the burgeoning commercial precinct of Dickson.

Only I happen to know that people interested in renting the space can’t even get a quote from the lease holder.

Suspicious minds might wonder if it’s being deliberately made derelict in order to make a case for a change of use. Apartments perhaps?

So should the ACT Government at least threaten to resume the lease unless the site is returned to its intended purpose?

Should road rules be the same for motorists and bikes?

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42 Responses to Whatever has happened to the Downer shops?
#1
phototext9:42 am, 05 May 09

It was a great Indian restaurant, a nice balance between cheap and good food.

#2
caf9:47 am, 05 May 09

Refusing to lease the space and holding out for a change-of-lease only works because the owner believes that the change of use will eventually be approved.

If we took a more hard line on change of use, they’d learn to lease it.

#3
Izzyduck10:05 am, 05 May 09

DA for 2 storey office building granted by ACTPLA early 2008. Current economic climate has project deferred until later this year.

#4
mcs10:10 am, 05 May 09

Long time lurker (Really enjoy reading this website, so many interesting things come up), first time poster.

I live in Bradfield St (Well I usually do, currently in the UK on uni exchange but will return in July), and ever since we moved in there in 2006 there has been constant talk of development/redevelopment etc of the Downer site. The last thing that I heard, which was towards the end of last year was that the mostlikely option for the site was that the business centre would remain, and as you guessed the old shops were to become more apartments or retirement village houses. I think the old school area was to be redeveloped as community facilities or something, I’m not quite sure?

This is in tandem with continued talk of a new shopping centre being built in the cleared corner opposite the business centre (I.e. on the corner of Bradfield St and Melba St.) I can’t see how a shopping centre would be beneficial or be able to survive financially, as Watson and Dickson are both very close and convenient. The only way I could see it actually happening would be if you got a major supermarket move in, Aldi would be the only one for whom it would be viable (Although a new woolworths would be a far better improvement on that joke of a one in Dickson).

I don’t know of any more developments this year as I haven’t been in Canberra, but when I have been talking to my flatmate in Downer he hasn’t said anything. I know that it is all mixed up with all the fuss surrounding the redevelopment of the school sites as well and that there was a big fuss as Downer was not mentioned/missed out or something in some of the decisions/reports etc (I really do not know the details as such as I’ve never been that particulary interested). I’m sure there are plenty of people that have a far better knowledge of the overall subject.

It seems a waste to have facilities there that can’t be accessed or used at all. I’d like to see it all knocked down to be honest, with the business centre rebuilt if required in one corner of the block and some more parkland/open space opened up. A nice community hall/multi purpose venue as well to go with it. It will never happen I know, but it’s a better option then some of the others being muted.

#5
Furry Jesus10:24 am, 05 May 09

A nice little old-style grocer’s store would be good – somewhere to buy the papers, milk and bread, perhaps sell organic fruit and veg and a quaint little licensed cafe with non-plastic outdoor seating and a little terrain for playing boules, poetry slams on Tuesday nights and trivia on Thursdays, local jazz combos on Sunday afternoons…

#6
p111:05 am, 05 May 09

I don’t know anything about the specifics of this case, but it is definitely a pattern which has repeated across Canberra over the last 20 years. While I think that changing demographics and social structure is a main driver, I don’t see why people who have the spare cash necessary to sit on an asset for 10 years should profit hugely. Perhaps when change of use gets processed the owner should pay the government a realistic amount to reflect the increase in land value?

#7
Jim Jones11:05 am, 05 May 09

They had a ‘nice little sold-style grocers’ there, which went broke very quickly. It’s too close to Dickson shops for it to be worthwhile for people to spend any real money there. So the stock went largely unsold, and what remained was largely out of date (word to the wise, never try to eat potato chips once they’ve gone out of date).

#8
Furry Jesus11:13 am, 05 May 09

True Jim lad, they did. but it was a very ordinary looking place, quite charm-free. Any store that lets cheap metal shelving and coke machines dominate the interior space is asking for abandonment in my book.

A little research and some inspiration is what’s needed – give the customer something to value and something they want to use. Look at Watson shops – how many cafe/restaurants do they have there, all of which seem to be surviving.

#9
abc11:34 am, 05 May 09

A supermarket will struggle. especially now that the WOOLIES at Dickson is about to start it’s upgrade..

MACS moving to other half of the bank.. no more bread made on site.. and self service checkouts with just 4 serviced express lanes and less checkouts for big buys.. but the deli will be twice as big.. plans on ACTPLA

#10
Tempestas11:38 am, 05 May 09

p1 said :

I don’t see why people who have the spare cash necessary to sit on an asset for 10 years should profit hugely. Perhaps when change of use gets processed the owner should pay the government a realistic amount to reflect the increase in land value?

Exactly, we need a system where if the owner decides to cease renting out the commercial space, that they have a small finite time to get it back to meeting the purposes of the lease. If not the Government can revoke and re-auction the lease. I’m sure if that area was to go to auction today for the purposes that we all seem to think would be viable, a suitable buyer would show up.

#11
YapYapYap12:02 pm, 05 May 09

I can’t see why Downer can’t find a place in the market, despite its proximity to Dickson. Griffith shops does very nicely, as a (mostly) food precinct and Narrabundah shops is starting to find its feet along the same sort of line – mostly restaurants/cafes and a bar. And that’s in the face of two larger, and expanding, centres within a km.

ps I lived on Bradfield St as a little Yap, and recall a stabbing murder, involving a pair of scissors, occuring in one of the shops. Hardly an excuse to kill-off the shops now – 45 years later – though.

#12
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_12:45 pm, 05 May 09

I wonder if there’s a difference between average incomes for Downer and Narrabundah / Griffith…?

#13
YapYapYap1:01 pm, 05 May 09

I’d imagine that the disposable incomes of inner north and inner south residents are more or less on par. The might be a little more ‘serious’ wealth in the inner south, but otherwise I’d say its pretty much line ball.

#14
Whatsup1:56 pm, 05 May 09

Face it, any kind of shopping there would be an absolute downer.

#15
Hercsie2:07 pm, 05 May 09

I grew up in Atherton Street Downer from 1967 thru to 1985, went to Downer Primary School. I went for a walk around Downer last weekend. Our old place has been extended and remodelled – as ex govies are – but it was sad to see the shops in that state. The demographics must have something to do with it.

In its heyday there was a chemist, fruit shop, milk bar, supermarket, butcher and newsagent (which later became a takeaway and then a doctors surgery).

A great deal of what could be purchased at these shops can now be bought a woolies maybe people are getting lazy and don’t want to go to seperate outlets for items they can buy in the one spot?

I do agree with some of the earlier posts though that a well set out grocer of providor would do well.

Anyway, my 2 cents…

#16
Jivrashia2:18 pm, 05 May 09

YapYapYap said :

I can’t see why Downer can’t find a place in the market, despite its proximity to Dickson.

I probably have the same sentiment as you, but realistically it’s probably just not viable.
You need to look at the map, identify the location of shops around Downer, and then come to the realisation that the location of the Downer shops is just cursed.
Any suburb south of Downer (including Hackett) is serviced by Dickson shops.
Any suburb west of Downer is serviced by Watson shops.
There is no suburb east or north of Downer.
Watson shops is viable because of the post office, Carlo’s, the takeaway shop, and IGA supermarket. Also it probably servies the currently expanding suburb of North Watson, since it is just off Knox St, which is a corridor to North Watson.

Downer shops just won’t have enough people patronising it.

#17
sepi2:54 pm, 05 May 09

I think it would do fine. Plenty of people would do anything rather than go near Dickson woolies. And it is such a great spot for outdoor cafes etc with all the flowers/vines etc.

Sad if it is going to be yet ore units/office space.

#18
sepi3:03 pm, 05 May 09

ps – also sad that most of Downer was zoned for development due to being 100m from shops, on the basis of Downer shops/oval. When now there are no shops.

#19
Gobbo3:33 pm, 05 May 09

I can’t accept that Downer shops are suffering simply because of the proximity of Dickson shops. It has to be more than that. Unless Downer people are not prepared to support their local shopkeeps.

The Cook shops have to contend with Jamison Centre and Westfield at Belconnen and they seem to be doing just fine.

There is a Butcher shop that has been closed for the entire time I have lived here, but the owners have just rented out two shops to new businesses.

The lovely Friendly Grocers (Nick and George) seem to manage their shop beautifully and provide top service to those who chose to shop there.

#20
Jim Jones3:40 pm, 05 May 09

Gobbo said :

I can’t accept that Downer shops are suffering simply because of the proximity of Dickson shops. It has to be more than that. Unless Downer people are not prepared to support their local shopkeeps.

‘Prepared to support their local shopkeeps’ sounds like a lot of empty jingoistic rhetoric to me. If it’s a choice between paying more for a smaller range (and then having to go elsewhere to finish off the shopping) then people will gravitate towards larger centres. If it’s convenient to use a closer, smaller store for the odd thing (bread, milk, etc.) then the store will have problems generating enough turnover to be viable.

Gobbo said :

The Cook shops have to contend with Jamison Centre and Westfield at Belconnen and they seem to be doing just fine.

I’d suggest you have a closer look at the Cook shops. There might be a small grocers that manages to get by, but everything else has been changing hands all too regularly or empty for long stretches of time.

The layout of Downer would be nice for cafes, bars, restaurant, and that sort of thing. The problem is attracting people to make it viable – without the usual supermarket, newsagents, etc. to get people there on a regular basis, it’s hard to make even the existence of such places known and from there to keep them patronised well enough in the short term for them to establish a reputation strong enough to get patrons in on their own strength.

#21
chokubaijo3:42 pm, 05 May 09

About 14 months ago I rang the owner, “Blacket homes” I think to ask if I could rent a shop there to open my shop. after a while I was offered the entire shopping centre for about $3000 per month, but on a month to month lease. Im pretty shore they are waiting to build some two storey town houses in this location. As month to month did not suit we decided on Nth Lyneham, but given its still vacant maybe we should have moved in there.

More recently we tried to lease a shop at Garren Shops, but it seems the same problem here on a smaller scale, each shop is inividually owned and the vacant shop (which would have been perfect for us) is waiting to be developed into a two storey shop. Im not sure whats happening there now.

#22
Granny3:52 pm, 05 May 09

I used to think it was sad when my daughters lived there. It just seemed like it would be a really lovely spot and I couldn’t understand why the space wasn’t being put to some positive use,

Apartments would be just awful.

#23
Gobbo4:02 pm, 05 May 09

Jim Jones said :

‘Prepared to support their local shopkeeps’ sounds like a lot of empty jingoistic rhetoric to me. If it’s a choice between paying more for a smaller range (and then having to go elsewhere to finish off the shopping) then people will gravitate towards larger centres. If it’s convenient to use a closer, smaller store for the odd thing (bread, milk, etc.) then the store will have problems generating enough turnover to be viable.

It may sound like empty jingoistic rhetoric to you, but it is something that my family believes in and does.

Yes, I realise that I am paying above the norm for the majority of my groceries, but I come from a long line of local shopkeeps and my jingoistic rhetoric is never empty. :-)

As for the rest of the shops at Cook, apart from the two new shops recently opening, the other three shops haven’t changed hands in the past 6 years.

It is unfortunately when there are empty shops in any centre, but I always support my local.

#24
phototext4:08 pm, 05 May 09

“Plenty of people would do anything rather than go near Dickson woolies”

Too right !

I loathe Dickson Woolies. There is never enough checkout staff, no matter what day, time of day or how crowded they somehow manage to ensure long lines.

#25
chokubaijo4:12 pm, 05 May 09

I believe a small set of shops could work at downer, the current centre would be great with a few cafes and maybe some specialist shops, ie and orgainic centre with greengrocer, backer and butcher. people will travel from other suburbs to go to good shops

#26
sepi4:15 pm, 05 May 09

Chokubeijo – there are empty shops at Hackett for lease. There is a supermarket and a hairdresser and nothing much else. Free parking and always lots of it – unlike Watson and Ainslie. Less passing trade than those shops tho.

I think Downer disappeared cos the local supermarket deteriorated to the point of selling only dusty old stuff that was past its use-by date. I gave up even buying bread, the place smelled so bad.

But people will support a decent local shop. Hackett IGA does ok, and they have no more locals than Downer.

#27
chokubaijo4:28 pm, 05 May 09

We were going to move into Hackett but the development time table did not suit. The owners of this shopping centre are trying hard to rejuvinate it, good on them. I hope the shops at hacket fill up and do well

#28
sepi4:32 pm, 05 May 09

I hope so too, but I have heard rumours of units in Hackett too…..keep shopping locally people, if you want to keep your local shops in existence.

#29
chokubaijo4:43 pm, 05 May 09

Local shops are important to people that dont have cars as well, before we moved to North Lyneham I had never thought about it. But there are a lot of people that are unable to venture that far from there home. if they dont have family or friends that can drive them, or cant afford taxis and dont trust Action buses they are trapped. So local shops are important for the whole community.

Living in Kaleen I love that I can walk to both IGA and Superbarn I now hardly ever go to coles and woolies. The price difference are not that big and the convienience is worth it.
Shop local support a Canberran

#30
Gobbo4:54 pm, 05 May 09

chokubaijo and sepi – Big double thumbs up on local shopping! You’ve made the Butcher’s granddaughter very happy. :-)

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