While retailers across the country are floundering under a fog of flat wage growth, falling house prices and political instability, Maitland retailers are doing it twice as tough according to long time Levee retailer Patrick Lane.
Mr Lane of Ken Lanes Menswear said the Stockland Green Hills opening, a rise in online shopping and “Americanised” sales like the Black Friday sale, have taken a toll on independent traders resulting in a lacklustre Christmas.
He said retailers in The Levee were doing it tough, himself reporting a 30 per cent drop in takings for the six months to December and a 25 per cent drop in Christmas sales.
And it’s not about promoting the centre as a collective.
“Most of us do that pretty well on our own – we have to because in The Levee we are all specialist retailers. Trade is subdued, down, there’s no doubt and Green Hills is having a major impact so for Maitland retailers it really is the perfect storm.”
But the Green Hills redevelopment isn’t the only thorn in their side. Mr Lane said national statistics show retail is taking a beating because consumers are uncertain about their future.
Mr Lane said he hoped the Green Hills factor is only a novelty and shoppers will return to The Levee to support independent traders.
“It’s a matter of getting people to think and shop local. Think about where their dollar is going – back to local traders who have kids in local schools and support local business, or to the big multi-nationals,” Mr Lane said.
With speculation Green Hills outlets did not perform as well as expected over Christmas, Stockland’s regional retail manager Craig Piper said the centre’s traffic was strong all year round.
The centre welcomed more than a million customer visits in December.
“The Christmas period was our busiest seasonal shopping period to date,” Mr Piper said.
“Retailer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive after the Christmas period and Boxing Day sales. We experienced an increase in customers.”
Back in The Levee there is one fledgling trader who has found a niche market and is riding the crest of a thriving business wave.
Tim Skinner from The Bikesmith and Espresso Bar said business was booming with Christmas trade up about 15 per cent.
“Coffee isn't something you would go to Green Hills specifically for – it’s a destination thing. We opened two years ago and have forged a good customer base from both residents and business people,” he said.
The Bikesmith is a cafe, bike repair and retail outlet.
“We haven’t seen a fall away of customers as a result of Green Hills’ expansion, we have continued to see growth. Bigger chain stores are disappearing in The Levee and it’s the specialist stores like us and Lanes with their suits, that will set the pace for the long term. The market is here – it’s just a matter of tapping into it and letting people know.”