RETAILERS in the former Sam’s Warehouse complex are facing the realities of trading with little foot traffic going past their doors.
Above: 'We're still here': signs and balloons on Mason Street to promote businesses still operating in the former Sam's Warehouse complex.
This article was first published in the 12 September 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Get your copy now for even more news and entertainment.
The five businesses still operating in the building have been affected in different ways by the closure of the discount store in July, with some being better suited to lower-traffic areas.
But all businesses in the area agree their capacity to find new customers has been reduced, and will remain low until a replacement for Sam’s is found.
Video game and comic book retailer Gippy Games and the Village Café have been particularly badly affected, having drawn many of their customers from people visiting Sam’s.
Gippy Games owner Steve Smith said his sales were “down by two thirds at the moment.”
“On the outskirts of Warragul, the main drawcard here was Sam’s and the parking,” he told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“With Sam’s going down there has been a total drop of foot traffic.
“Where you’d have mum or dad going into Sam’s and the kids diverting into the games store and the word of mouth going from there.
“That has now disappeared.
“The actual impact from that [has been] where I had a business I was slowly developing and had hit basically a break-even point, I now lose money.”
Mr Smith took to opening up the Mason Street entrance of the shop, which was quiet in comparison to how busy the Sam’s side of his shop used to be, in a bid to increase his exposure to passers by. Despite his efforts, exposure remains minimal.
“In the end, unless you go on a big marketing campaign, it is very difficult to counter that drawcard.”
For Richard Gan, owner of the Village Café, the closure of Sam’s and reduced foot traffic is “a big issue.”
“The [business] with Sam’s closed is maybe half as much as before,” Mr Gan said.
“Just for example, every day when Sam’s was open I was taking maybe $800 per day, but when Sam’s closed down it was just maybe $400-$500 per day.
Mr Gan has taken to erecting signs on Mason Street with balloons attached to help people realise businesses are still operating in the complex.
The other retailers in the area have not been affected by the closure in the same way. Maree Langford of hairdressing business Snippets said her kind of business and being on the site for 13 years was a greater factor than foot traffic.
“It hasn’t really affected us too much,” she told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“We’ve lost the walking-by traffic, but otherwise a lot of our clientèle is word-of-mouth
“But we want it filled, we want someone in there. It would bring more people down here, which would be good for us.”
Manager of fitness group Curves, Christine Holliday, said her business was in a similar situation to Snippets, but finding new members was a little more difficult since the closure of Sam’s.
“It has been really quiet in this area, so it has probably slowed the area down a bit,” she said.
“Not necessarily with our current members, they obviously come regardless, but not as many people coming through means not as many people just walking in and being curious to see what’s here.
“It hasn’t made a huge effect… but there has been a lot less traffic and, absolutely, I would love something in there.
“It would be great to have something in there before Christmas, too.”
Mr Smith said the onus was on locals to keep local shops open and supporting local jobs by buying locally.
“We are still here, we are still trying to survive, but in the end the support of the people in Warragul are the reasons stores remain open,” he said.
“To be honest… I’m not sure that the people actually support the local stores quite enough to survive longer-term.
“An indicator of the level of support for retail in Warragul is the number of empty stores.
“There is probably a dozen, or more, empty shops within a kilometre of the CBD that are vacant.
“Obviously at some stage they weren’t all vacant, because otherwise people wouldn’t have built more.
“So the level of retail support in Warragul has actually dropped over the last 10 years.
“Businesses feed off each other. I fed off Sam’s being there.
“I employ two people part time. Those jobs [could] go.”
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