The shops at Manuka in Canberra’s inner south have always been a hive of activity. The first work started there in the late 1930s and by the 1960s the shops were flourishing with florists, shoe stores, two supermarkets, clothing stores, a delicatessen as well as two butcher stores, hairdressers, barbers, and even a fishmonger. Nowadays there’s only one supermarket and no butcher or fishmonger, but there are designer clothes stores, several banks, a pharmacy, a newsagency, jewellery stores, and homewares stores. The overwhelming majority of businesses are cafes, restaurants and bars.
While this paints the image of a thriving town centre, it appears to be quite the opposite, with at least four stores closing in the last month – Deli Alimenté (near Coles), Sushi Smith (near The Lawns), Angelo’s Shoes and Andez Gemstones – both were next door to each other, a few stores up from Public Bar (there are, however, reports that these will be renovated and turned into a large chocolate boutique). I’ve also noticed that a store in one of the arcades (I think it was also a shoe store) has closed down recently.
Millers of Manuka closed down in the last year, and the Manuka Pharmacy merged with Priceline Pharmacy moving to the older Millers of Manuka store. The old pharmacy space is still empty. Clothing store Gabby that used to be near The Lawns has also closed down and ONA have opened a bigger cafe there. I have noticed that the RM Williams store on Flinders Way is gone too.
Given that Manuka isn’t a large area, this is a pretty big chunk of businesses to shut down all around the same time. Could Manuka be dying? I’ve certainly found it much easier to get a parking spot there recently, whereas a year or two ago I would have driven around for 10 minutes looking for one. On some occasions even the whole Coles underground carpark was at capacity but now it’s never more than half full.
Deli Alimenté’s Facebook page says it closed down due to trade declining so much in the first three months of 2015 and they couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. As for Sushi Smith, when they opened up (which wasn’t that long ago), I remember thinking that they wouldn’t last long because there were already two sushi shops in Manuka – one of which is hugely popular with a strong regular customer base.
I think the decline of Manuka can probably be attributed to a number of factors including places like the Kingston Foreshore and Braddon taking off, as well as paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle. Public servants aren’t driving into Manuka for lunch anymore because they’re worried about losing their car spot. There were calls for ACTION buses to provide lunchtime services from the Triangle to Manuka but as far as I’m aware this didn’t get off the ground.
The success of the Kingston Foreshore and the reinvention of Braddon are obviously incredibly positive and they’re injecting new life into different parts of our city, however, what if this is at the detriment to other areas in Canberra? One person I spoke to suggested that the popularity of these new areas is a good thing as it will lower rent costs in areas like Manuka allowing new business to open. However, if Manuka continues to decline, any new businesses surely won’t be able to survive even with lower rent?
I still visit Manuka semi-regularly, I work nearby and often pop down there for lunch. I tend to do most of my grocery shopping there too even though I live on the other side of the bridge. Driving a few extra minutes to Manuka is much more preferable than dealing with the usual chaos at Dickson Woolworths.
Has anyone else noticed the decline at the Manuka shops? Or do you frequent Manuka less, choosing to go to the Foreshore instead?