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Myer Hobart store beats flood and fire, but market conditions may be toughest foe

Selina Ross, Wednesday April 25, 2018 - 17:03 EST
Audience submitted image
The fire which tore through Myer's Hobart store would not be the last catastrophe at the site. - Audience submitted

It has risen again from the ashes and has emerged from a devastating flood — but the challenge for the latest incarnation of Myer's Hobart store is simply to get people to shop there.

The Liverpool Street site has faced setbacks of almost biblical proportions.

In 2007 a massive fire tore through the store, weakening the building's Federation-era facade so much it had to be demolished.

The glow of the blaze could be seen from the suburbs as 70 years of history went up in flames.

Myer continued to trade out of its remaining floorspace until 2015, when heralded the unveiling of its new Liverpool Street frontage.

Construction began to redevelop the rest of the city site before disaster struck in July 2016, when a , flooding the construction area, Myer's lower floors and adjoining businesses.

Today, after months of construction work, ongoing legal wrangling and traffic congestion in the city, Myer will open the doors to its full-size store, with other traders in the city hoping any success rubs off.

Independent clothing boutique owner Belen Aliste says the many months of building works and road closures have taken a toll on her Liverpool Street business.

"People stopped coming here, thinking that we were closed with all the trucks and the work outside," she said.

"Hopefully now the roads are open more people will come into our shop."

Ms Aliste is confident the Myer reopening will encourage more shoppers into the city.

"Tasmanians do like to shop locally … I don't find Myer big competition for us, they'll just bring more customers in, so it's a good thing."

It's a sentiment echoed by many other city retailers, including Edward Harry, who has a store opposite the Myer shopfront.

"The more [offerings] the city can provide the Hobart people and people from Tasmania and elsewhere, the better," he said.

"It adds another reason to come into the city."

He pointed to other incoming retailers, including H&M and Harris Scarfe, which are opening city outlets soon, as an indication of "very good, positive signs that the CBD of Hobart is alive and well".

"There is a real resurgence in this town."

Myer has put on more than 30 additional staff members to cover the expanded space, with more recruitment to come.

Store manager Peter Monachetti said the demand for department store retail in Tasmania was strong.

"We have total trust in our future," he said.

Myer nationally has been going through a challenging period, including posting a first-half loss of more than $476 million in March.

Last year it announced almost 20 stores would close.

Mr Monachetti said he was confident the Hobart store would not suffer the same fate.

"We basically have gone through 10 and a half years of incidental traumas and one of the things that I've personally learnt is that we have such a loyal customer base," he said.

"Our customers are absolutely fantastic in Hobart, they want us to succeed."

He said he was not worried about the coming opening of retail competitors.

"The positive from a Myer business [perspective] is that it will bring greater traffic into the CBD of Hobart," he said.

"Retailing depends on traffic and the more traffic we can bring into the CBD of Hobart, the better it is for all retailers."

'Other stores need to lift their game'

While there was a lot of positivity among CBD retailers, Robert Mallett from the Small Business Council said parts of the city were in need of an upgrade.

"There's no doubt about it that some of the buildings are in need of a facelift, well and truly," he said.

"Landlords are always loathe to spend money unless they can get better rent for their premises but hopefully we can get the small business owners and their landlords to start talking, to lift their game."

He said stores could benefit from simple measures.

"It's amazing what a coat of paint will do, a new window display, different stock arranged differently," he said.

"I think people will be keen to show off their best foot when we get so many more people coming into the city."

Mr Mallett said Hobart could focus on improving its laneways and alleyways.

"I don't know that we necessarily have quite the same type of alleyways that Melbourne has," he said.

"But our Bidencopes Lane, our Mathers Lane, have shops in them and I think as we get a bigger population shopping in the city, that will leave room for entrepreneurs to think of something a little different to do."


© ABC 2018

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