Retail in Fremantle Part Three: The future of Freo’s high streets

In this final part on the series on the future of retail I want take some what we have learnt from the experience of high streets globally and ask what this might mean for Fremantle going forward. Before looking at where to from here let’s have a quick look at where Fremantle is at now.

Freo’s retail now – green sprouts and threats

A key point that emerges from the data is that Fremantle is doing better than many critics make out but there are undoubtedly huge challenges ahead.

As we saw there is a global phenomenon of economically struggling high streets. Fremantle is no exception but the closer you look the more you see we are doing better than many.

There clearly has been a steady flow of businesses closing in recent months including Diva, Vidler Surf, Eat Drink Cook and Gloria Jean’s. There is no doubt the Fremantle retail economy is a work in progress.

But amongst the doom and gloom media articles and knee jerk reaction for too many of us to talk Freo down, there is actually a reality in which an impressive array of new businesses have opened or expanded in Fremantle over the last 12 months or so including:

1. Bread in Common  2. MANY 6160  3. Epicure on High
 4. Jack & the Bean  5. The National Hotel  6. The Raw Kitchen
 7. The Mantle  8. Yocal Cafe  9. Parlapa
10.Ally Fashion 11.Hush Espresso 12.Cheep
13. Tutti Frutti ice cream 14.Late night Delis 15.Outgrown
16.BiBi vintage & fair trade boutique 17.Common Ground Collective 18.Pure Apparel
19.3D Printing Studio 20. Lessons Concept Store 21.Box Pizza Co.
22.Grill’d 23.New Edition Book Shop 24.Escape Hunt

 

This is not a complete list and doesn’t include many of the new businesses emerging outside the Fremantle CBD in places such as North Fremantle and South Fremantle and even George Street East Fremantle where there are some great new village centres emerging – often containing businesses that would have once been in the Freo CBD!

There is little doubt that Myer leaving Fremantle a few years ago (even though it was a terribly run down department store for most of the last 20 years) was a change that shifted the retail balance in Fremantle significantly and those reverberations are still been felt.

Despite some recent successes there is still a huge challenge ahead. The global phenomenon of struggling high streets is being exacerbated in Fremantle by some fundamental shifts in retail competition. A few years ago Fremantle lost its long held exclusive right to Sunday trading and the challenges ahead are going to be just as tough, particularly as Garden City will double in size and other centres like Claremont Quarter and Cockburn Gateway draw traditional Fremantle shoppers away as they expand and renew. It will likely be a rocky road to recovery.

Key steps towards a positive future for Fremantle’s retail

In light of all of this Fremantle has to also adapt in how we approach our retail if we are to have a vibrant and diverse retail sector going forward. Below are some key moves that I believe future Freo retail needs to undertake if it is to have a successful retail sector:

  1. More than just food and beverage

As can be seen by the list above there is no shortage of new food and beverage establishments opening in Freo – over half of these new businesses have a food and beverage element to them.

In contrast to many of the high streets around Australia and globally, Fremantle’s problem is not that it is too fashion heavy. Instead in Fremantle it is that we are potentially too food and beverage heavy. In terms of where retail is going globally it could be argued that Fremantle is actually ahead of the game because of this.

Fremantle’s challenge is that we need to be careful to not let Fremantle become solely about food and beverage but also to ensure it keeps the diverse retail that meets the needs of local residents and businesses. This means having the right mix of fashion, restaurants and coffee shops, alongside the practical day to day shops residents need. In an ideal scenario these shops would be evenly dispersed throughout the Fremantle city centre.

My first and probably controversial prediction is that High Street in the West End will soon be the most desirable and attractive strip in Fremantle because it will have the diversity to keep it fresh and interesting.

  1. Mixing mainstream and bespoke retail

While I agree the great advantage high streets have is in their authenticity and unique retail offering, I think Fremantle’s retail will do best if it has a mix of unique Fremantle only offerings with some mainstream, national brands mixed in with it. Having Country Road and Zara sit alongside Love in Tokyo and Common Ground would be a good thing.

Why? People like to comparative shop, compare brands and prices from store to store. A few majors (as they are called) amongst the high street independents is also likely to attract a wider range of punters down to Fremantle adding to the diversity of visitors. Fremantle’s future has to be BOTH enhancing our great creative bespoke retail AND mixing it with some mainstream retail as well.

Putting it simply, my view is that Freo people shouldn’t have to travel to Garden City for what they need. We should be able to get it all in Fremantle. This means rebuilding our retail around the needs of the growing number of locals as well.

  1. A more coordinated approach to retail

My second bold prediction is that soon, the challenge for the future of retail in Fremantle is not going to be empty shops (as they will largely be filled). It will instead be the bigger task of getting the retail mix right.

As the high street experts have made very clear, the great advantage that shopping malls have over high streets – and one of the key reasons they are out-competing high streets – is that they are creating a coherent and interesting retail mix that many high streets often haven’t been able to match.

How do we combat this? We curate our high streets to make them more coherent, diverse, attractive and able to meet the needs of visitors and locals alike.

  1. Thousands more people living and working in central Fremantle

The longer term answer to retail working in Fremantle can undoubtedly be described as more foot traffic seven days a week through more people working and living in Fremantle. The more foot traffic there is the more likely retail in Fremantle is to be successful. This is one of the reasons why in Fremantle, we are working hard to quadruple the inner city population and add a couple of thousand more residents to the East End precinct.

In addition to more residents, more jobs during the week in central Fremantle is also a key move to bring our retail back to life. That’s why Fremantle Council is planning for around 70,000m2 of new A-Grade office space in central Fremantle to make sure Fremantle has a stronger week day economy.

The rather controversial planning scheme amendments 38 and 49 to enable higher density development in central Fremantle were essential to Fremantle meeting this goal. With developments such as Heirloom (aka Fort Knox), Defence Housing, and others progressing well in this part of town, meeting these targets is looking good.

  1. Short term activation

But a word of caution here – adding thousands of new residents and office workers will inevitably take many years. The long term strategy of having more people live and work in Fremantle is on track but it is a decade long process to recover from nearly three decades of decline. In the short term will need to rebuild retail and stem the loss of retail diversity

While we rebuild the fundamentals, more temporary interventions like pop up shops and other creative uses can be part of the solution.

Starting in Australia with Renew Newcastle, the “popup” concept matches artists, fashion designers and businesses with vacant spaces. This successful venture has been adopted in other cities and Fremantle is now a leader in this area. MANY 6160 by local innovators Spacemarket is reportedly the biggest popup shop in the southern hemisphere and has been a great activator of the old Myer building and surrounding area.

There is no excuse for an empty shop in Fremantle. We have lots of great creative people wanting space and in the short-term, plenty of vacant spaces. The more these are matched the better.

  1. Parking changes

As much as I think parking is often overstated as a problem in Fremantle, perception clearly influences reality. The Fremantle Council has recently rolled out free parking options in Fremantle and these will need to be strategically expanded to make visiting Fremantle more appealing. Legibility of parking will also be essential so Fremantle’s 5000 odd parking bays can be found more easily.

Conclusion

Despite some big challenges ahead, Fremantle retail is on the road to recovery. Fremantle is especially fortunate to have some of the best people in the business collaborating to ensure our retail sector continues to evolve in the right direction.

One of the key things that Tom, Luis and the City of Fremantle’s economic development team will be doing over the next few months is kicking off the process for a new economic development strategy for Fremantle. This will build on the award winning former strategy that comes to an end next year. We will be seeking your input on this.

Great centres are centres that evolve and change and are flexible enough to adapt to the changes around them without losing the character that made them special and loved in the first place. Fremantle will never be able to compete directly with the Garden City’s of the world but nor do we want to. Fremantle instead needs to evolve its retail and become a great high street destination. For this to work it needs you and I to support these new businesses as they become part of the fascinating Fremantle Story.

high st and market

 

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

6 Responses to Retail in Fremantle Part Three: The future of Freo’s high streets

  1. Amool says:

    Dear Brad,

    I appreciate your concern and vision for retain in Fremantle. While you mention right mix of retail business, the council has allowed two convenience store of 7/11 in a distance of 200 meters. Do you think this the right mix we have been talking about? This will surely lead to few more small stores closing soon to perhaps benefit an international chain, I think this could have been avoided.

    • I agree it is not an ideal outcome but under our current planing scheme these uses don’t require Freo Council approval so that is why this has happened.

      We will need to look at this. We were a bit surprised to go from no late night stores to 4 in a year or so!

      thanks, Brad

  2. Michelle says:

    I mostly agree that we need a retail mix. But I don’t think your slowing traffic is going to help at all. I live on South Terrace and I strongly believe that this is going to enrage more drivers and cause more traffic jams. And ultimately cause people to stay out of fremantle not come in…may be you could get rid of the buses on the strip as they speed and cause the most traffic congestion…leave the cat only. You need to make things easier not harder. Try getting the agents in Freo to lower rents and you lower parking and you may have half a chance of retailers looking. I asked the company I use to work for to look at Freo last year..they laughed as its too expensive and too quiet. ( large interstate company). I don’t see that your doing anything to actually encourage retailers to come here. Your trying to make this a car free city…you want to close the strip again….this was done before and failed miserably..why torture the retailers and resturants again when they are struggling as it is…”leave Freo be..

    • Michelle
      I think traffic calming the cappuccino strip by slowing traffic is sensible so long as you have better, cheaper parking on the periphery of the the Freo CBD as well.
      cheers, Brad

      • michelle says:

        we shall see…I see it as a deterrent for people coming in…visitors don’t want to park away from the centre.I don’t think slowing traffic is a solution to making Fremantle more alive… .The city has a lot of one way streets and I know when friends have come from in from over the river they have found it frustrating to get around especially when roads closed due to festivals etc. and have often given up and gone elsewhere.S Has council considered stopping buses going through to help elevate congestion on the strip.

  3. Penny Valentine says:

    Buses full of people who can sit looking out the window are actually good to have going through our streets. One person in a car doesn’t have time to look about and see what is on offer. Slowing the buses has made a difference already along the strip and in Market street. If we can slow traffic more to make it safer for people to walk around it would be even better.

    While the idea of parking at a distance is great, how do we solve the problem for parents, who may have three or four children with them who then have to trudge into the centre of town – and carry their shopping bags with them – and its raining? If we have good parking facilities on the outskirts of the city which the Cat buses regularly link to it’s a marketable ‘free service’. In fact we already have it but most people don’t know about it… there are free bays down near Sealanes and the cat buses stop right there. There are probably other places I’m not aware of. Surround the city with similar sites and we can promote Fremantle’s free parking services (or if we have to charge a nominal amount, Fremantle – the cheapest place in Perth to park). Come to Fremantle there’s lots of free / cheap parking, sounds better than come to Fremantle but don’t bring your car. They won’t come, especially if they have young kids.

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