Inner West Independent

Pop-ups not propping up profit

The Italian Forum in Leichhardt. Photo: Richard Tullock

Store owners in the Italian Forum are ambivalent about the initial results of Renew Leichhardt, a scheme which has turned four vacant shop fronts into pop-up stores in a bid to attract shoppers back to the area.

Two months after the first shop opened, it is clear the initiative won’t be a panacea for the struggling Forum’s woes.

Tony Michael, of fashion retailer P&S Michael which operates a store in the Forum, said the initiative had not yet improved sales.

“From our point of view it’s had nil impact, neither positive nor negative,” he told the Inner West Independent.

“If you just walk through the centre and look around, it’s pretty poor at the moment.”

But Mr Michael expressed support for council’s efforts to reduce vacancies, and is not worried about potential competition with pop-up stalls.

“If they could fill every shop in the centre at free rent I’d be most happy,” he said.

“We will get benefit in just having shops there for customers to come and browse through.”

A restaurant owner in the Forum, who wished to remain anonymous, reported that fewer people were remarking on how “dead” the area had become. But the pop-up stories have “not really” improved the restaurant’s patronage.

“People [still] don’t believe that it’s busy enough,” the owner said.

Norton Street and the Italian Forum have struggled to overcome increasing vacancy rates and a reduction in foot traffic in recent years. The Renew Leichhardt program looks to negotiate with property owners in order to provide extremely cheap spaces for, in the words of Leichhardt Council, “networks of creatives, makers, and other potential space activators” to conduct workshops and sell goods on a temporary basis.

“An empty shop has an effect that extends well beyond the front door of that property. It…can bring the whole economic viability of an area down,” a council spokesperson said.

“It’s easier to rent a property that’s occupied than one that’s empty.

“So far we have four very distinct shops not in competition with other retail in the Forum and the fact that they are [selling] designed, hand-crafted [goods] really sets them apart from anything in our whole precinct.”

But when the Independent visited on Monday, three of the four stores appeared to have no customers and the fourth was closed. A sign outside the that shop, called Mia Designs, indicates it is also closed on Thursdays.

Italian Forum resident Helen Robertson, when asked whether the project was having a material benefit for the piazza, wasn’t aware that it had started.

“Do you know when those pop-up shops are supposed to be happening?” she asked. “Where are they?”

The four stores will host a two-hour workshop on March 1 where participants can make tie dyed shirts, lingerie, jewellery or stuffed toys. The cost for the project was estimated at $151,000.

Council unanimously voted to approve the initiative in May of last year. Newcastle resident Marcus Westbury initially started the program in 2008. After its success in Newcastle, Westbury took the program to a national level. Commercial districts in areas of Adelaide, Townsville and Cairns have adopted it so far.

With Michael Koziol

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