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Tangle of issues combine to knock Merimbula’s mojo

Elka Wood 22 July 2019 11
The look and feel of Merimbula's main street is hanging on an 11.2 million grant through the NSW Government's Regional Growth program. Photo: Elka Wood.

The look and feel of Merimbula’s main street is hanging on an $11.2 million grant through the NSW Government’s Regional Growth program. Photo: Elka Wood.

It seems like Merimbula, one of the region’s key tourist towns, is undergoing an identity crisis.

A dozen empty shops is the most obvious symptom, leading people to ask why the once-thriving seaside town is struggling?

Bruce Marshall is a Jindabyne-based investor who owns the buildings on the corner of Main and Market Streets in Merimbula. His property extends from the empty building which was last home to Waves restaurant all the way up to the old Woolworths.

“Why did I buy the Woolworths building?” Bruce asks, amused, “it was cheap because there is a perceived oversupply of retail buildings in Merimbula.”

Bruce, like so many, is not sure if Merimbula will ever return to its former popularity as a shopping destination, especially with Pambula to the south and Tura Beach to the north growing strong and developing their own specialties.

The number of empty shops along Market Street has been blamed partly on the new Woolworths building having a rear entry. Photo: Elka Wood.

The number of empty shops along Market Street has been blamed partly on the new Woolworths building having a rear entry. Photo: Elka Wood.

After three years of trading, clothing and homewares retailer Simone Villarroel closed the doors of her Merimbula shop front, Pretty On The Inside, on June 29. She puts the closure down to a low summer season last year.

“A lot of tourists I would see on a regular holiday basis stopped coming. The feedback I received was that the cost of accommodation in Merimbula was too high and that their families could go on holiday overseas for cheaper – people’s expectations of their holidays have changed.”

Simone’s decision leaves another empty shop in the CBD, adding to the anxiety some are feeling about their town.

High retail rents and speculation that having empty shops is somehow advantageous and provides a tax break for wealthy investors have been part of the local conversation.

A spokesperson for the Australian Taxation Office says “a loss is a loss. If you are losing money on a property, it’s unlikely you would be able to offset that at the end of the financial year, even if negatively gearing against other assets.”

Bruce Marshall says that the idea that landlords benefit from empty shops is laughable.

“Everything is negotiable and if someone comes to me with an idea, I might back it.”

Merimbula has so much to offer tourists. Photo: Merimbula Visitor Information Centre Facebook.

Merimbula has so much to offer tourists. Photo: Merimbula Visitor Information Centre Facebook.

Some have criticised Bega Valley Shire Council for not anticipating and planning for the impact that developments around Merimbula have had.

In a letter to the chamber of commerce, landlord Robert Green wrote “when the Council allowed Tura to be enlarged as a shopping centre and Woolworths to add 20,000 sqm of retail space to the district, it created a major problem for retailers in the Shire and especially in Merimbula.

“There is now far more retail space in the Shire than there is demand for it.”

Bega Valley Deputy Mayor, Mitchell Nadin, lives in Merimbula and has also owned a small business in the town, Dulcie’s, which he sold about 18 months ago.

“Merimbula is not unique in having these problems,” Cr Nadin says. “We are very concerned about supporting economic development shire-wide.”

Cr Nadin has a few ideas about how to beautify the main street and make traffic flow work better for small businesses.

“Right now, we essentially have a four-lane highway running down the main street. We have to make our shopping district more attractive for people to stop and walk around, we need more green space and we need to bury the powerline running down market street.”

Putting the power line underground would mean more scope for trees and greenery along Market Street. Photo: Elka Wood.

Putting the power line underground would mean more scope for trees and greenery along Market Street. Photo: Elka Wood.

Where to find the funds to do this work remains unanswered. Earlier this year, council applied for an $11.2 million grant from the Growing Local Economies Fund, part of the NSW Government’s $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund.

A spokesperson for Member for Bega, Andrew Constance reports that the submission’s status is currently pending.

$11 million would do a lot for Merimbula’s morale but in the meantime, Cr Nadin says that council needs to put together some options for the public to consider and attack the problem from every angle – in stages if necessary, as the budget allows.

Lynn McColl, President of the Merimbula Chamber Of Commerce, sees lots of potential.

“Merimbula has been neglected for too long,” she says. “My job is to be the squeakiest wheel in the shire.”

“Merimbula is a beautiful place and we are an hour flight from Sydney and Melbourne, there’s no reason we can’t succeed.”

As the push for a Bunnings Warehouse in Tura Beach continues, Merimbula’s struggle, like so many tourist destinations before it, isn’t over yet.

“Things change,” Bruce Marshall says thoughtfully, “Merimbula’s population is still growing, will it grow back into itself? It’s a bloody good question.”

Original Article published by Elka Wood on About Regional.


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11 Responses to Tangle of issues combine to knock Merimbula’s mojo
Terrence Butt Terrence Butt 7:38 am 27 Jul 19

Same at batman's bay.....if the caravan parks were still cheap enough and u didn't drop your pay on a meal ... all these shops wouldn't be affected as much

Roy Amos Roy Amos 6:40 am 27 Jul 19

I travel the coastline all the time camping where I wish spending money in towns as I need to Bega council with all the signs no camping no sleeping in cars how dare they they have turned that part of the coastline into a no go zone. The people that have money are the travellers Grey nomads to charge us money to sleep in own vehicles on a piece of dirt inside and enclosure the first thought I have get stuffed I keep driving this belongs to all of Australians it does not belong to a group to dictate

54-11 54-11 12:44 pm 26 Jul 19

We have a self contained RV and often travel to the coast. However, we always bypass places like Merimbula as there are no low-cost accommodation options. This is because the caravan parks pressure council to not allow any low-cost options.

It’s up to you, Mr Nadin – encourage grey nomads to stop, stay and shop, which can be a huge boost for the town and region. Look at Bulahdelah, which was bypassed by the Pacific Highway, and decided that the answer was in their own hands. They put in place a strategy to attract passing traffic, and business is booming.

Bega Valley Shire needs to stop being dictated to by caravan park owners, and start planning to stop people like us from simply driving past.

Bec Evans Bec Evans 10:15 pm 25 Jul 19

Interesting observations about the township Amy and Michael. Maybe that’s why Dulcie’s food doesn’t taste the same as it once was, Ben? Different owners... 🍔 🍟 🍺 🌳 ☀️

    Amy Grealy Amy Grealy 7:05 am 26 Jul 19

    Bec unfortunately, accurate observations I'd say. Meanwhile, Pambula is coming ahead leaps and bounds!

    Donna Jowett-Poulos Donna Jowett-Poulos 7:35 am 30 Jul 19

    Bec Evans have to say we had cocktails and burgers at Dulcie’s last Friday night - best burger I have had in years, and I own a restaurant - it was really good 👍

Lee Powick Lee Powick 8:30 pm 24 Jul 19

Patrick Hartwell we'll fix that

Helen Agnew Helen Agnew 6:54 pm 24 Jul 19

We have to go back.

Shayne El Shayne El 4:44 pm 24 Jul 19

Thanks Cass,its a concern.

    Joy Pink Joy Pink 5:02 pm 24 Jul 19

    Shayne El very sad. I have very fond memories of trips to Merimbula.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 2:32 pm 24 Jul 19

A lot of empty shops in Eden as well. Let’s hope the new cruise ship wharf that will open in the next year can help far south coast businesses. I also hope the promised yacht marina for Twofold Bay comes to fruition, as that development could prove an amazing area for sailing and for mooring boats.

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