George St retailers ‘dropping like flies’

A man sits in front of an empty shop in George St. The number of vacant stores along the central...
A man sits in front of an empty shop in George St. The number of vacant stores along the central city street has reached a10-year peak. PHOTOS: GERARD O’BRIEN / ODT GRAPHIC
A Dunedin business says George St retailers are "dropping like flies" as the number of vacant stores reaches its highest level in 10 years.

But a property investor expects the number of vacant stores will drop as three "significant international leasings" are poised to open in the street later this year.

According to the latest retail occupancy survey by Quantify Consulting, about 15% of all retail units across the three main retail  blocks in George St are unoccupied — 31% of the Farmers block, 12% of New Edinburgh Way and 9% of the Meridian Mall block.

The figure is the highest recorded in the past 10 years, and has increased about 36% from the previous quarter.

The Chapman Store owner Amy Chapman said she was "not at all surprised" that the number of vacancies had hit a peak.

"It just feels like they keep dropping like flies."

Mrs Chapman said she had noticed a few more people coming into town since the $105 million revamp of the central city was completed.

But there had not been the "huge influx" she had been anticipating.

Getting a park had been "a nightmare" while work was being done and she believed some people had become used to avoiding the area.

There were about four empty stores near her shop, some of which looked "so ugly" and "quite derelict", and she would not be surprised if a few more stores closed.

"I’m going to blame it all on the roadworks.

"I have been through two recessions in my time in business . . . but this is like a whole other level.

"I do think the street looks good, but I definitely don’t think it’s been worth it for the stress of the store owners and the people that have lost their businesses."

Commercial property valuer Adam Binns, of Quantify Consulting, said this was the "single highest quarter"of vacancies since the company began collecting the data in 2014.

A mix of general economic conditions, a possible move to online retailing and "maybe, to some extent" the roadworks taking place in George St were to blame for the spike, he said.

Mr Binns said there was the possibility of more positivity along George St, now that the roadworks had finished.

Golden Centre mall director and property investor Jason La Hood said the number of vacant stores was "not a fair indication" of where the street was normally at, and he expected it to decrease over the next year.

The George St upgrades project had begun straight after the Covid-19 pandemic, which had been a "roadblock" to any new leasings.

But Mr La Hood said there were "three significant new international leasings" for George St he was aware of that had been signed and was expecting two of them to open within the next quarter.

These signings were "the type of tenant that people travel overseas to visit", he said.

"They’re coming to Dunedin and that will definitely have a snowballing effect on their competitors wanting to be in Dunedin.

"I say let’s see where we are in 12 months, which I would say will be the barometer of how well George St is going to do in the future."

In April, Australian and New Zealand cosmetics giant Mecca announced it was opening a store in Dunedin which a spokeswoman said would be "in the second half of the year".

A Dunedin City Council spokesman said it kept a close eye on occupancy rates in George St.

The current rates were coming off the back of "historically high levels" in recent years and a short-term change did not point to a trend.

Current economic conditions and the cost of living crisis were contributing more significantly to reduced occupancy rates than any local conditions, he said.

The general condition and earthquake performance standards of buildings, as well as sensitivity to rents, could also contribute to vacancies.

"While we acknowledge the disruption caused by the George St retail quarter upgrade, it’s also important to acknowledge we pulled out all the stops to minimise this disruption and support businesses through this period."

George St was proving to be a "drawcard" for new retailers, and staff had fielded inquiries from prospective tenants, similar to Mecca, looking to move to the street from elsewhere in Dunedin, he said.