6 March 2020

Latest break-in could be the final straw for Coombs' only shop

| Dominic Giannini
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The Ajijo Grovery and Convenience Store

The small grocery at the Coombs shops. The rest of the centre is empty. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The Ajijo Grocery and Convenience Store – the only tenant at the Coombs shops – has again fallen victim to thieves, being broken into for at least the fourth time in under a year early on Wednesday morning (4 March).

Although no cash was stolen this time, Ajit Kumar, who runs the store, said thousands of dollars of cash and goods were stolen the first couple of times thieves broke in.

After being broken into so many times, Mr Kumar says he is thinking of shutting up shop in the lonely complex and moving his business to Tuggeranong or Belconnen.

“When I spoke to the owner as I was signing the lease, I was told that there were other tenants as well, that they would have more tenants soon,” he told Region Media.

“When we started we had hoped that there would be more shops there, but it eventually turned out to not be the case.”

The shop, which is owned by Mr Kumar’s wife Jyotsna, is struggling to make ends meet with the constant break-ins.

“Being a single store in the area we were an easy target because there is no security at all,” Mr Kumar said.

“People who walked in were telling me this when they came into the store. It looks like they are targeting it because it is a lone shop.”

CCTV forage of a break-in at Ajijo

A CCTV image of the would-be thief breaking into Ajijo. Photo: Ajijo Facebook.

Coombs is a rapidly expanding suburb in Canberra’s south-west with over 6000 residents, many of whom have become increasingly concerned with the lack of infrastructure, and how the owner of the complex, Renato Cervo, has dragged his feet developing the shopping centre.

A community petition was launched in June 2018 by angry residents about the lack of progress on the development, which was uncompleted at the time.

Residents also expressed their annoyance at the lack of facilities in the suburb in an open letter to politicians and the CEO of the Suburban Land Agency.

The development took two years to complete and Mr Kumar and his wife opened the small Indian grocery and convenience store in March 2019.

The family is encouraged by the community to fill a gap in the market, a community he has lauded as exceptionally supportive.

“I was talking to my friends in the area and they think that there should be some shops there in the area. I had a lot of support from the locals in the area [to start the shop],” he said.

“The locals have been quite nice. I can see that they come to my store to support us which is quite a nice thing.”

Ajit Kumar and his wife Jyotsna

Ajit Kumar and his wife Jyotsna are considering moving their business after multiple break-ins. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Kumar says the owner could do more to secure other leases.

“There have been many people talking to me who say they are serious about renting the space, but when it comes to the owner, they are not getting any deals,” he said.

“At some point in time, we may need to pull the plug and move to another place. We are exploring options and I am not sure how long it will take.”

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A quick scan of the price per square meter for commercial properties shows that the Coombs shops are significantly more expensive than shops listed for lease in Tuggeranong or even Woden.

Not to mention the anecdotal claims that the owner of the Coombs shops is difficult to deal with.

It appears the owner is not making a realistic attempt to lease this property.

We can speculate on the reasons why, but time will probably make things clearer.

An election is coming up. We have political candidates and/or their staffers on this forum.

I ask those people, please let us know what your proposal is to fix this problem?

HiddenDragon7:23 pm 09 Mar 20

“The Ajijo Grocery and Convenience Store – the only tenant at the Coombs shops….”

Another epic fail from a government which loves talking about “active transport”, but which continues to deliver hopeless outcomes in practice – this is just another reason for people to drive from Molonglo to Weston or Woden.

No one wants to lease a 1000m supermarket it is too small and can’t compete with the surrounding shopping centres, without a supermarket they will not get any other tenants, it is the same as is happening in Giralang where the developer won’t commence work on the DA because they cannot get a supermarket tenant. The Barr government deliberately introduced the law reducing the supermarket size to 1000m for select shopping centres which has unsurprisingly resulted in this outcome. This has been going on in Giralang since 2005 with no end in sight so Coombs can easily expect another 10 years + of this.

This supermarket size limitation is often raised as an issue.

If indeed it is a significant factor in the inability to get a supermarket in there, then there would seem to be an easy solution.

Can’t our planning (or whoever is responsible) minister provide an exemption for the Coombs shops.

Having seen the inside of the centre it wouldn’t seem too difficult to expand the empty supermarket into a couple of the empty shops.

But perhaps it is more difficult than it appears because surely that has already been considered and rejected.

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