Queen St businesses are urging the community not to abandon them during the prolonged upgrade of the main street with one owner saying the roadworks has had her “crying at the bank”. Many Queen St stores have seen a noticeable decline in foot traffic since work started on the $11 million main street revamp in February leaving them wondering if they can survive the year of disruption. Wooden Spoon co-owner Nicky Woodbury and CopyArt co-owner Karyn Thomas said their stores were surrounded by empty shops causing many potential customers not to venture further down Queen St. While Queen St was still open to one lane she felt many people thought the road was shut due to the road cones and other signs of construction.
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Daily takings had dropped by a third at the cafe, which she runs with her husband Craig, while their outgoings and overheads remained unchanged.
“We’re having to open on Sundays to recoup costs.”
Already “running on the scent of an oily rag”, Woodbury said they had to “act quickly” to stop going bankrupt.
She said she was “crying at the bank” as she discussed mortgage holidays and interest only repayments.
“We don’t have any wiggle room at all. There’s no profit in it for us. We just can’t sustain that financial hit for a year, we’ll be having to sell our house.”
The Queen St upgrade has been planned for some time. Some businesses have been able to save and anticipate for the possible decline in customers, but the Wooden Spoon had been unable “to save for a rainy day”.
The improvement includes replacing underground pipes and better power and communication services, and the road will be lowered to reduce flood risk and footpaths widened.
The upgrade will see sections of the main street closed for several weeks but pedestrian access will be maintained.
However, Thomas said foot traffic into CopyArt she owns with her husband Jamie had dropped by half.
The couple were struggling to find time to spend with their two young boys, one of whom has severe autism.
“We want to hire a new staff member but we don’t know how the rest of the year is going to pan out … so my husband and I are fronting up a lot more of our own personal time.”
A lot of elderly members of the community used to pop in for copying, scanning, printing and emailing but they are no longer visiting as frequently due to the change in where buses stopped, she said.
Thomas said a lot of the retail stores down Queen St were “small, local, independently owned businesses” who supported each other through their stores.
“If the businesses around us are suffering, their business is not coming to us and we can’t help them.”
While some stores reported a definite reduction in their foot traffic others were unaffected.
Stitchcraft owner Tanya Carney said her shop would “have to be on fire before people stopped coming in”.
Village Cycles owner Robin Reid said he was trying to remain “optimistic from the outset” as he knew it would be “better in the long run.”
Many commentators on social media said they were avoiding shopping on Queen St due to the upgrade.
Opinions varied from pointing the finger at the Tasman District Council for the inconvenience to Facebookers laying the blame on laziness from the public.
Vanessa Bradley said people needed to “get past the need to park right outside the shop they want to go to.
“The footpaths are still perfectly fine.”
Tasman District Council community relations manager Chris Choat said it had mixed feedback from businesses and acknowledged that there were “some that are finding it difficult”.
“We don’t want to undermine that. Some say it’s hard but it’s gotta be done and some haven’t noticed any difficulties. It depends on their business model.”
He said if the community didn’t support each other and if some businesses didn’t survive, “that’s one less amenity” the people would have.
“They’re part of our community, it is about a community, and the more we can support each other through these times, the better.”
Retailers with any issues were encouraged to contact Richmond Unlimited or Hawkins Infrastructure who had an office in Queen St set up for that purpose, Choat said.
Choat recognised parking was a common complaint from businesses.
Retailers were fortunate that they had a ring road with car parks that backed onto stores either side of Queen St, he said.
The A&P showgrounds was supplying all day parking for workers to free up visitor parks.
Car park flow monitoring meant Papps car park, off Oxford and Cambridge streets, had parking times cut back to one and two hours, Choat said.