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THE EMPIRE COFFEE CO: The Hunter’s Hunger Games

We hear stories like this all the time, but it still hits home when we read another one.

This was posted today on The Empire Coffee Co Facebook page…

This is an op-ed piece I sent in to the newspaper last week.

THE HUNGER GAMES

Things are getting desperate in the Honeysuckle precinct. I know other parts of Newcastle are suffering too. I moved my cafe from Crown Street to Honeysuckle in May of 2017 knowing full well that the impact of the light rail construction would have seen the end of my business. I knew it wouldn’t survive.

I may have delayed the inevitable. I expected a ripple effect on surrounding blocks a street away from the major construction works. What I didn’t expect was that it would be a wave. And not just the one, but one after another.

With businesses reporting up to a 30% drop in trade, some more, we know what the reasons are contributing to it.

The light rail construction, while it has a direct and deep impact on the Hunter Street businesses, with closures (some for good) and relocations (such as Frontline Hobbies) along with their departure it has already seen the regular influx of their faithful customers never coming back to the area as it was the only thing pulling them there. Local cafes are now missing out on those hobby enthusiasts who were also known to stop by for a coffee or a bite to eat to or from their favourite hobby store, the largest of its kind in Australia. Many will suffer with significant drop in trade.

The disruption to traffic, with access to Honeysuckle Drive changing weekly, is another factor in the decline of trade for the harbourside area.

Additionally there’s the closure of car parks, such as Lee Wharf.

There are two types of customers attracted to the restaurant and cafe businesses. The majority of weekday trade, morning to afternoon, is that of local office workers and business people. In the evenings, and the weekends, local families and visitors to our city are, or were, frequenting the area.

With the announcement and subsequent closure of the Lee Wharf Car Park it has given cause and concern for regular weekend customers who figure that they’ll be fighting for fewer car spaces. Which would have been true, had they not been scared off. But when most of them avoid the area, we are seeing the opposite effect. We have ourselves empty car spaces.

Some are still paid parking, even on weekends. The free car park closer to the Wickham Interchange isn’t a popular choice for families. You’d not want to walk 1 kilometre with a child in tow, or pushing a pram. The older family members aren’t keen on the walk either.

Meanwhile over at the Wright Lane Car Park it’ll cost you for two hour park on the weekend.

The Honeysuckle Traders Group contacted Council and also the Hunter Development Corporation to ask for free parking on a weekend. Neither party saw the benefit (despite the council’s fanfare with the Newcastle Now’s funded free parking on a Saturday in the King Street car park to entice shoppers to Hunter Street Mall). It was pointed out that the free car park was under-utilised (this is the one that is 1 km down the road). What they failed to see is the benefit of having close-by free parking in terms of the businesses being able to promote it, and encourage the public to return. Without this life blood, we will die.

Jeremy Bath, the General Manager for Newcastle City Council had a suggestion that the Honeysuckle Traders try harder to woo the light rail workers to cross the rail corridor and spend their money at our establishments. Which I consider a slap in the face to the Hunter Street businesses. The best suggestion they have is that we fight over the same scraps? We’re being encouraged to poach customers from other cafes who are also struggling, even more so than us. Is this the Hunter’s version of the Hunger Games?

We’re struggling and things are getting desperate. If this continues my business won’t last past next month.

Glen Fredericks
Owner
The Empire Coffee Co

Written by Newcastle Live

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