A tale of two suburbs and how COVID has changed the way we shop

By on March 18, 2022 0

High Street Armadale, with its mix of high-end fashion and general retail, drinks, restaurants and services, is ‘flying’ according to market analysts, with a store vacancy rate of around 10% , according to property consultancy Plan1, compared to 22 percent in the CBD.

The commercial center has benefited from a large number of professionals working from home and at short distance and the High Street Traders Group brings the vacancy rate closer to 6%.

Fashion retailer Lisa Barron says High Street Armadale’s loyal clientele and quality shops, restaurants and bars are key to its enduring appeal.Credit:Eddie Jim

“The street is doing well,” said the association’s Steve Williams age.

fashion retailer Lisa Baron said the key to the street’s success is in its business mix.

“I consider High Street to be an experiential street,” she said. “It’s made up of big stores and cafes and those kinds of places and to spend money you have to experience something as well,” Ms Barron said.

“It’s a question of mutual aid; a big fashion store needs a good cafe or wine bar to look after its customers while they are in this area and High Street certainly has a great selection of these.

“It has developed a very loyal following and when a place has built a reputation it kind of sticks.”

But in Werribee, 44 kilometers to the west, and where the median weekly household income is less than two-thirds that of Armadale, local councilor Josh Gilligan says the shopping and dining experience is very different.

the old Labor Mayor of Wyndham Recount age that for local professionals working from home, there was no option to quickly walk or drive to the local store or cafe.

“It’s not about not wanting to go out and buy a coffee at a local cafe,” Cr Gilligan said. “It’s the ability to get to a local cafe without having to drive.”

“It takes eight minutes to get from my house to Tarneit Tarneit Central and then I have to park the car and walk to the shops and then drive home.

“So the $8 a day I don’t spend on myki could be used to buy two coffees a day, but I don’t because there’s no coffee shop within walking distance of my house, so it there is no incentive to do so. This is really the urban planning problem that we have here in the outer suburbs and which will resonate with everyone.

Cr Gilligan said residents were increasingly concerned about the quality, variety and accessibility of local business infrastructure.

“I hear more and more complaints from residents that the options are limited,” he said. “It was never a conversation before COVID because people were concerned about making sure they had parking at a train station and how did they get to and from work.

“All of these infrastructure issues turned into a conversation about choice, the lack of it, and the failure of urban design to actually create choice where you live.”

Pacific Werribee is the largest shopping center in the region. Its chief executive Ryan Ling did not disclose vacancy rates, but said the center was “close to full occupancy”.

“Customer traffic is returning to pre-COVID numbers, and very nicely, sales are strengthening – the upward trends we expect will only continue,” Ling said.

“Interestingly, as traffic continues to recover, the promising sales results suggest an emerging trend of customers, perhaps visiting less frequently, but spending more. A trend we believe is consistent across other destinations in similar retail.

Real estate advisor Richard Jenkins, of Plan1, has studied the fortunes of some of Melbourne’s long-established shopping streets over the past 20 years and says some, such as High Street in Armadale, Church Street in Brighton and Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds, have thrived despite the pandemic.

But other strips familiar to generations of Melbourne shoppers and diners, such as Bridge Road in Richmond and Acland Street in St Kilda, were struggling with higher vacancy rates than the CBD.

Mr Jenkins said the key to the survival of suburban malls was the ability to adapt to changing demand and offer customers a variety of experiences in one place.


“The pandemic has highlighted the structural trend that the sector has been undergoing for years and this development has also been observed in the strips,” he said.

“Increasingly, neighborhoods are becoming more diverse, with vacant stores being leased as offices, education, health and wellness, and even residential.

“Changing consumer behavior and limited resources underscore the need for owners, occupiers and local government to collaborate and adopt innovative approaches for their long-term strategies.”

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