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Retail Leasing. Not Always What It Seems | Mark Knoff-Thomas

By the time you get to read this, the election will have been lost and won, and hopefully we haven’t been subjected to lengthy delays while any coalition negotiations take place. If ever there was a year when we needed a government to get back in the saddle and rapidly instill confidence in the economy, 2020 is it.

On the upside spring is doing its thing and filling us with the positive vibes that extra daylight brings along with the warmer weather. Now that we’re back to “normal” we’re lining ourselves up for Christmas – which, for a predominantly retail precinct, is the business-end of the year. But before we hit our yuletide stride we have the Festival Italiano to look forward to – on Sunday November the 8th Newmarket becomes little Italy for the day. If you haven’t been before, I strongly recommend you come along, and if you have been before, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

As a sector, retail is not for the faint hearted, it has always been challenging. Ever since Newmarket’s early days as a trading post where the offering was horse shoes, wood and animal slaughter services – it has been very hard work. These days it is a constant hustle to keep consumers engaged and re-engaged. Like every sector there are top performing businesses, some solid players, and some who struggle. COVID has caused a whole new level of stress to many businesses this year, and retail has certainly felt the brunt of it, along with hospitality and tourism. Interestingly COVID caused a few retailers around the country to leapfrog technologically and fully embrace an omni-channel model. If online trading wasn’t part of their offering before lockdown, it most likely is now. Online sales are surging.

A point of frustration for me is the fixation that some media have had with For Lease signs – it undoubtedly makes for great click bait. Sadly For Lease signs are cropping up in many town centres. And yes, sometimes, these can highlight a local economy in distress, but sometimes a cluster of Realtor branded signage shouldn’t be taken at face value. Some buildings are set for demolition and redevelopment making it hard to attract tenants, for example. Newmarket has a multitude of property owners – local ones, some overseas, one-person- bands, family trusts and everything in between. This year we have seen the very best of most of our property owners, they have stood alongside their tenants and worked out rent relief as we all weather the COVID storm. But a small handful just haven’t “got it”. A very small minority appear to have lacked compassion and have shown unwillingness to meet the realities of the market today. These property owners often struggle to find tenants – that is the real reason why spaces become empty, and remain empty longterm. COVID has pushed some retail and hospo businesses over the edge, but not as many as you’d think.

We have a landlord with around 8 empty shops on Broadway. We have many other landlords nearby who own multiple stores, but have no empty ones despite that fact they have had turnover – they attract good long term tenants. Westfield Newmarket delivered 10’s of thousands of square metres of new A-grade retail space – the supply and demand equation has changed and savvy landlords have realised this and are reaping the benefits. Some food for thought for next time you see a cluster of For Lease signs.

Fingers crossed our border prevention strategy holds up ok – but in the interests of a trouble-free build up to Christmas, and beyond, let’s keep up with the hand washing, contact tracing (I know it’s easy to forget, but valuable if we stick to it), and of course don’t go out if you’re feeling unwell, and if you do cough/ sneeze do it into your elbow etc.

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