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Is Manuka dying?

By Alexandra Craig - 31 March 2015 58

manuka

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?

What’s Your opinion?


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58 Responses to
Is Manuka dying?
watto23 5:14 pm 01 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

What is happening in Manuka is happening everywhere else.
Someone mentioned on another thread that the Canberra Centre was becoming the only retail bastion in Canberra City. It’s the same at any of the town centres with even most of them having a growing number of empty shops.
The only ones in the large shopping centres that appear to flourishing are outlets of large national and multi-national chains or franchises, some locally owned/managed. Then there are the cafes/coffee shops and the oversupply of these guarantees “a short shelf-life” due to competition.
There are very few Canberra home-grown businesses left.
The impact of this retail aggregation and on-line shopping together with our government’s shameful support for IKEA and the like ensures the death of village shopping centres like Manuka.
I occasionally go to Caphs (following a movie at Manuka) as it never changes. The other “new” eateries are too noisy and expensive for an old codger like me.

Still beating the Ikea drum….. All the government did was rezone land so that Ikea could build there. They support it because it will create jobs. Sure there may be losses elsewhere, but the net effect will be more jobs as its been shown people will travel to visit Ikea. If Canberrans will travel to Sydney (and make up 10% of Ikea Sales in Sydney), then people from around the region who can’t afford overpriced furniture, will travel to Canberra, visit Ikea and maybe Costco, plus other businesses in Canberra. There is a clear net benefit to Canberra.

If people didn’t choose these places they wouldn’t exist. As a conservative yourself dungers, you’d agree that it should be user pays. That is what Abbott and Hockey say anyway. Clearly users don’t want to pay to prop up local over priced goods, regardless of quality. I support many local run businesses myself on a weekly or fortnightly basis, but I’ll be glad when Ikea comes to town. Furniture is overpriced and really not the best quality either in Canberra. Yes if I want to buy quality furniture there are stores for that, but that is a different market to Ikea. Those businesses can’t blame Ikea, even though some are trying to. If someone is willing to pay $1000 for a bookcase then the $89 bookcase from Ikea is not on their radar.

As for Manuka, its the changing times, people have less time these days. Specialist stores people will travel to, but there is only room for so many in Canberra. Manuka is not suffering any worse than anywhere else. If shops are closing its because people have stopped using their services or buying their goods. You can’t prop up a business because its been there for as long as you remember and it was better 30 yrs ago.

pink little birdie 4:26 pm 01 Apr 15

The paperchain bookstore is always well worth visiting local authors and a different range of books. and the wool shop is one of only 2 speciality wool shops in Canberra and carries wool brands that the other doesn’t.
I went to Manuka last week looking for a particular type of paper album but all the shops there I would have thought would have had it didn’t or weren’t there anymore

Rollersk8r 12:18 pm 01 Apr 15

I have so many childhood and teenage memories of Manuka. It had an identity as a small cluster of boutiques, catering to well-heeled local residents – and those who wished to appear that way. As kids with casual jobs we would easily spend $100 on drinks in Manuka in a night, thinking it was so much classier than drinking in Civic.

All started to go downhill from the time Coles and McDonalds popped up – because it became just like everywhere else. Hence I have absolutely no reason to go there these days. I did take a quick walk around, when the football was on the other weekend – and definitely agree it’s dying.

dungfungus 9:53 am 01 Apr 15

What is happening in Manuka is happening everywhere else.
Someone mentioned on another thread that the Canberra Centre was becoming the only retail bastion in Canberra City. It’s the same at any of the town centres with even most of them having a growing number of empty shops.
The only ones in the large shopping centres that appear to flourishing are outlets of large national and multi-national chains or franchises, some locally owned/managed. Then there are the cafes/coffee shops and the oversupply of these guarantees “a short shelf-life” due to competition.
There are very few Canberra home-grown businesses left.
The impact of this retail aggregation and on-line shopping together with our government’s shameful support for IKEA and the like ensures the death of village shopping centres like Manuka.
I occasionally go to Caphs (following a movie at Manuka) as it never changes. The other “new” eateries are too noisy and expensive for an old codger like me.

creative_canberran 1:08 am 01 Apr 15

Work on the Manuka commercial area began in the early to mid 20s, leases were sold in the early 20s with very strong demand. Over a dozen shops were already open by 1927 including a grocer, butcher, cafes. Many more by the end of the 20s including the Cusack family’s first Canberra store. Gregory Cusack would go on to open his car yard across the road from that store, what is today the Shell Service station, and from their he and the rest of the family built a very expansive business empire across the region. ‘The Arcade’ (where My cafe is) was completed in 1928. The Capitol Theatre, which the present day Event Cinema pays homage to, was opened in 1927 and the Manuka Oval was already open in the 20s too. By the 30s there were professional offices and workshops there too, a hairdresser, clothing boutiques and even a newsroom. Some of these businesses were new, some were annexes to those elsewhere in Canberra or Queanbeyan and some were already interstate traders.

However even in those early days, there were vacancies in Manuka, growth was slow, mainly because the suburbs were growing slowly. Manuka looked to be booming, but meanwhile Kingston was being established and stole the thunder.

Look anywhere around Canberra at the moment and you see areas in decline, other been refreshed. It’s part of the ebb and flow. I think Manuka is still very healthy, but the Plaza has never lived up to expectation, nor did the former Woolworths site. As in the 1930s, the refresh of Kingston is stealing the thunder and that will likely get worse when ‘old Kingston’ is redeveloped in the coming decade. But it’s not the first time Kingston has been refreshed either, and Kingston itself has suffered when other areas like the Canberra Centre were redeveloped in the late 80s. It’s a cycle and Manuka will continue just fine.

Ezy 3:48 pm 31 Mar 15

Downtown Milk Bar – yeah it’s okay for your standard sandwiches etc. I picked something up from there today for a colleague. But if I am after your standard sandwiches I just tend to make my own by grabbing some stuff at Coles.

The Bakery across the road does a similar sandwich bar set up.

Kate Buscombe 3:44 pm 31 Mar 15

Alexandra Craig said :

Ezy said :

One thing that I feel is missing from the Manuka is a cheap, quality sandwich bar – which I feel is why Mee’s is so popular. Something like idelic in Kingston would be good for tasty lunch time alternatives that don’t cost $20+. I was really hoping that the new Kismet would offer something like this, but again – $20 for lunch is way out of reach..

What about the Milk Bar next door to MyCafe? They have a sandwich bar set up where you pick and choose exactly what goes on your sandwich. I haven’t been there in a while but used to go there all the time. I think the average sandwich cost me about $8.

I can definitely vouch for the sandwich bar – I used to work in Narrabundah and would often pop down there for a sandwich during lunch. They have a great range of fresh sandwich bits, as well as daily specials of oven baked goods (such as lasagne). They even stock gluten free bread! Not exactly sure of price,but I would be able to grab a sandwich and a coffee and get change from $15.

Kim F 3:19 pm 31 Mar 15

watto23 said :

I don’t think pay parking has had an effect. If anything its easier to drive into Manuka now for lunch as you will get a car spot when you return as the car parks all have free parks in them most of the time. Previously if you left your car spot at lunch, good luck finding another one.

Totally Agree

watto23 1:48 pm 31 Mar 15

I don’t think pay parking has had an effect. If anything its easier to drive into Manuka now for lunch as you will get a car spot when you return as the car parks all have free parks in them most of the time. Previously if you left your car spot at lunch, good luck finding another one.

Its hard to say if Manuka isn’t representative of wider Canberra in general. I also think building owners don’t care wholeases the store, as long as it is leased. I noticed last night at Erindale, that Cafe Cherry Beans is opening. Inside there is already a Micheles and a Guru and for the less discerning a Donut King. Also a bakery. There is also another hairdressers opening….

Alexandra Craig 12:39 pm 31 Mar 15

Ezy said :

One thing that I feel is missing from the Manuka is a cheap, quality sandwich bar – which I feel is why Mee’s is so popular. Something like idelic in Kingston would be good for tasty lunch time alternatives that don’t cost $20+. I was really hoping that the new Kismet would offer something like this, but again – $20 for lunch is way out of reach..

What about the Milk Bar next door to MyCafe? They have a sandwich bar set up where you pick and choose exactly what goes on your sandwich. I haven’t been there in a while but used to go there all the time. I think the average sandwich cost me about $8.

rubaiyat 12:07 pm 31 Mar 15

Maya123 said :

rubaiyat said :

When we first came to Canberra we liked walking to Manuka and catching the bus back.

The Manuka bus was cancelled several years ago. In fact 2 out of 3 routes have been cancelled and the last one left, that only goes to Civic/Woden is down to once an hour for most of the day.

Parking around Manuka is a pain and if you want to dine/drink a car is not a good option anyway.

Losing Woolies and gaining Coles was not a positive, especially given the horrible development Coles is in, which was a disaster from scratch and only gotten worse.

We still go to see the occasional movie or a couple of our favourite restaurants, like Ricetta, the Korean BBQ and Pheast, or the Book Store, but much less than we did previously. If enough people are in the same situation that explains Manuka’s lower patronage.

“The Manuka bus was cancelled several years ago. In fact 2 out of 3 routes have been cancelled and the last one left, that only goes to Civic/Woden is down to once an hour for most of the day.”

Mistaken. Buses 4 and 5 go through Manuka between Woden and Civic five days a week with each running every half an hour, so that’s a bus about every ten to twenty minutes. I regularly catch number 5.
At weekends buses 935 and 938 pass through Manuka. That’s on a reduced timetable, but still, for five days out of seven, there is a bus every ten to twenty minutes.
A hint to bus travellers going towards Woden. Catch number 5 if you can, as 4 appears to take a longer and a more ‘scenic’, winding route. Their route is the same for 4 & 5 going the Civic direction.

I guess that must mean: “If it happens to you, it happens for everyone”?

Not mistaken. The 4 and 5 go nowhere near us.

All we have is the 1 and if we walk a kilometre back to Deakin we might hit lucky and get a 3, but that is an act of desperation.

Maya123 11:40 am 31 Mar 15

rubaiyat said :

When we first came to Canberra we liked walking to Manuka and catching the bus back.

The Manuka bus was cancelled several years ago. In fact 2 out of 3 routes have been cancelled and the last one left, that only goes to Civic/Woden is down to once an hour for most of the day.

Parking around Manuka is a pain and if you want to dine/drink a car is not a good option anyway.

Losing Woolies and gaining Coles was not a positive, especially given the horrible development Coles is in, which was a disaster from scratch and only gotten worse.

We still go to see the occasional movie or a couple of our favourite restaurants, like Ricetta, the Korean BBQ and Pheast, or the Book Store, but much less than we did previously. If enough people are in the same situation that explains Manuka’s lower patronage.

“The Manuka bus was cancelled several years ago. In fact 2 out of 3 routes have been cancelled and the last one left, that only goes to Civic/Woden is down to once an hour for most of the day.”

Mistaken. Buses 4 and 5 go through Manuka between Woden and Civic five days a week with each running every half an hour, so that’s a bus about every ten to twenty minutes. I regularly catch number 5.
At weekends buses 935 and 938 pass through Manuka. That’s on a reduced timetable, but still, for five days out of seven, there is a bus every ten to twenty minutes.
A hint to bus travellers going towards Woden. Catch number 5 if you can, as 4 appears to take a longer and a more ‘scenic’, winding route. Their route is the same for 4 & 5 going the Civic direction.

rubaiyat 11:10 am 31 Mar 15

When we first came to Canberra we liked walking to Manuka and catching the bus back.

The Manuka bus was cancelled several years ago. In fact 2 out of 3 routes have been cancelled and the last one left, that only goes to Civic/Woden is down to once an hour for most of the day.

Parking around Manuka is a pain and if you want to dine/drink a car is not a good option anyway.

Losing Woolies and gaining Coles was not a positive, especially given the horrible development Coles is in, which was a disaster from scratch and only gotten worse.

We still go to see the occasional movie or a couple of our favourite restaurants, like Ricetta, the Korean BBQ and Pheast, or the Book Store, but much less than we did previously. If enough people are in the same situation that explains Manuka’s lower patronage.

Ezy 10:59 am 31 Mar 15

I have worked in Manuka for over 13 years and have seen it change quite a bit over that time. Many business have come and gone – including Woolworths, Starbucks, Abels Music, Sanity Music, various attempts at nightclubs + pool bars, restaurants (Atlantic, Tryst, JusQytly). The rise of Ona in Manuka was good to see – from humble beginnings as Hansel + Gretel to the coffee powerhouse they are today. Over the road it has been interesting/sad to see numerous failed attempts to rejuvenate the nightclub space, Legends even had a go at extending downstairs but that didn’t last. The owner of Kismet was the last to try to inject some life into it with Alchemy. It didn’t last long. People just don’t like to cross that road.

One thing that I feel is missing from the Manuka is a cheap, quality sandwich bar – which I feel is why Mee’s is so popular. Something like idelic in Kingston would be good for tasty lunch time alternatives that don’t cost $20+. I was really hoping that the new Kismet would offer something like this, but again – $20 for lunch is way out of reach.

I do really enjoy a lunch time browse in Paperchain though.

Dame Canberra 10:31 am 31 Mar 15

Such a shame that Deli Alimente has closed down. It was one of my favourite shops in Manuka – so much so that I used to do my grocery shopping at the Coles next door instead of at Majura Park so I could visit the deli afterwards.

I’ve noticed that Manuka has been much quieter of late (it has never been so easy to find a park!), but certain stores like Gelatissimo, Public and the new cafe on Flinders’ Way next to/near Mee’s Sushi always seem to be quite full which is reassuring.

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