TRADERS, landlords and property managers have been given a glimpse of the retail rescue plan the City of Greater Bendigo has been working on with a Sydney-based retail consultant.

It will require traders to pitch in, working as much as 20 per cent harder if they don’t already have a customer relationship and digital platform, and banding together to define and promote their precinct’s point of difference.

Consultant Brian Walker told retail sector participants at a talk on Tuesday night location should not be a factor in the success of stores in Bendigo, and in fact precincts should set out to exploit their unique character and differentiate from shopping centres which only really offered cover, parking and

He said with time, retailers big and small could adapt to the changing retail scene which required creating an online relationship with customers but retaining a bricks and mortar store with displays that were regularly changing.

High vacancy rates in Hargreaves Mall, Killians Walk and some parts of Mitchell Street were also raised during an open discussion after Mr Walker’s talk.

He said open pedestrian malls were not necessarily dead but, “they can’t be frying pans in summers and slippery and freezing in winter and they have got to be where the community is meeting and where the community engages in social interaction”.

“Then they thrive around the world and I have seen many examples of plazas, piazzas, all sorts of areas where they do that,” Mr Walker said.

“They are the tourist hub of the place.”

He said plans for Hargreaves Mall had to include making it a destination for tourists.

Council’s Phil DeAraugo said the mall, parts of which had suffered as retailers had taken advantage of expiring leases to move on, had good and bad aspects, but conceded it lacked “shade and colour and softness and it is pretty hard”.

He said council had eased up on restrictions for cafes operating in the mall regarding what furniture they could set up outside for patrons.

“The Paris end” of the mall, which included the playground, was working.

“We often think of (retail) as doom and gloom because we zero in a bit on the bits that aren’t working, but there are other parts that are working quite well,” Mr DeAraugo said.

“In food and beverage, which is a really tough segment, we are getting some really good operators and new ones are popping up.”

But he warned there could be further vacancies in the mall, a forecast realised with this week’s news Officeworks is moving to premises in Mollison Street.

He also agreed with Mr Walker’s comments that lowering rents in the mall would not necessarily alleviate the problem, but would reduce the amount landlords reinvested in maintaining or
upgrading their shops.

Mr Walker was upbeat, saying the vacancies were an adjustment as retailers responded to the changing retail environment.