WITH Hawkesbury City Council’s town centre survey now closed, businesses around Windsor said they were keeping their fingers crossed for some positive changes around the district.
Owner of Windsor Newsagency, Sumit Kumar, said Windsor Mall had been lifeless for the past two years, during which time his turnover had dropped 20 per cent.
“It’s not just quiet, it’s dead. Even the busy days are not as busy as they used to be. So many shops here are shutting,” he said.
Mr Kumar, who lives in Quakers Hill, bought the business three years ago, and said there had been a noticeable drop in the number of customers shopping in the area during this time.
He said the main culprit was rent, which he believed was too high for shops to survive. He named five businesses which closed down in the strip between Fitzgerald and Kable Streets (near his shop) during the past year alone.
“Rents are too high, and empty shops mean not as many people are coming to the mall. I see people walk up the mall, and when they reach this spot they look around, stop and walk back out again,” Mr Kumar said.
He said he paid over $3000 per month for his medium-to-large shopfront, and believed it needed to be half this to attract new business-owners to “take the risk”.
“Everyone says so. Rents are raised 5 per cent every year, and they are not in tune with the business potential of Windsor,” he said.
Off the mall, on Fitzgerald Street, Dave’s Furniture Bargains employee Hailee Moffatt said the business had been open for 30 years but she didn’t know how much longer it would be viable.
“Over the past five years there’s been no business and no passing trade. Just greedy landlords and empty shops,” she said.
“We used to get tourist buses stopping here, but the council took their parking. And compared to the three hours free parking in Rouse Hill, parking in Windsor is terrible.”
Business owner Dave Whale said he could not point his finger at any single cause for the lack of shoppers in the area, but said as destination businesses like Retravision and Sportscene had closed over the years business had been getting worse and worse.
“I keep doing it because I’m single, but if I had a family I wouldn’t be here - I’m losing too much money,” he said.
Business group concerned
Outgoing secretary of Windsor Business Group (WBG), Gae Kelly, said WBG had “huge concerns” about the ability for business owners to succeed in Windsor for much of her time on the board - over 10 years.
“We’ve been trying to build business in Windsor for years. We want to grow the town. But it’s really hard when you’re not that large a group and you don’t get much support from shops, and then when you put something on they say it wasn’t exactly what they wanted,” she said.
“We need people who aren’t just going to tell you what to do, they need to be part of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but WBG operates on limited funds - it’s $100 a year for membership, which is pretty cheap - but the first thing people say is ‘I can’t afford it, and what do you get for it?’ It’s not so much what you get for it, but what you put into it. If more people contribute more people will get rewarded.”
Ms Kelly and the WBG members organised the Light Up Windsor Christmas lights even in the mall before Christmas, which she said attracted between 500 and 700 people to the strip.
“It was so great to see so many people. The mall itself was a huge buzz. People said to us ‘can you do that every week?’ I wish! But the amount of work that went into that was phenomenal, and it took a lot of membership funds to put it on,” Ms Kelly said.
Ms Kelly also decried the commercial rent prices in the area, and said when she owned restaurant Trentino’s on George (sold in recent years), she was paying over $4700 a month in rent.
“Our rent was phenomenal when we were there. And you’re out on your own - not even in one of those complexes. But [big shops] down at Riverview for example would be paying $6000-$7000 - it’s ridiculous,” she said.
“Most of them are absentee landlords. We wrote a letter to all the landlords in the shopping stip the other year, asking them to help us revitalise Windsor. Out of a couple of hundred landlords, we got three replies - that is absolutely pathetic.”
Council on board
Ms Kelly congratulated Council for the work it is doing to attract people to the district via family-friendly events - including the recent Australia Day celebrations and Traveling Food Fest at Governor Phillip Park - and said the town centres surveys are a step in the right direction.
She also appealed to the community to help-out by shopping as much as possible in Windsor.
“Be local. Shop local. Do your Christmas shopping, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day shopping there. Please shop in Windsor,” she said.
“You might find you drive to Penrith to purchase a gift when you could find something in Windsor. We have lots of little gift shops; even buy a dinner voucher. There are some beautiful businesses in Windsor and some wonderful people.”
Hawkesbury Council’s director of city planning, Matthew Owens, said Council recognised the need to revitalise and enhance our town centres.
From December through to February, Council conducted surveys about what residents wanted to see in the Hawkesbury’s town centres of Windsor, South Windsor, Richmond, Pitt Town, Glossodia, Wilberforce, North Richmond, Kurrajong and Kurmond.
“In order to ensure revitalisation plans and projects are reflective of community needs and aspirations, it is essential to gather measurable data from a range of sources to both understand the current position and the community’s ideal position with respect to its numerous town centres,” said Mr Owens.
He said the survey was like a ‘place census’ and would be used for multiple projects across the Hawkesbury once the results were collated.