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Queen Street’s ‘golden mile’ tarnished by retail vacancies

Publish Date
Sat, 18 Nov 2023, 3:36pm
Much of the Strand Arcade building is vacant. Photo: RNZ / Emma Stanford
Much of the Strand Arcade building is vacant. Photo: RNZ / Emma Stanford

Queen Street’s ‘golden mile’ tarnished by retail vacancies

Publish Date
Sat, 18 Nov 2023, 3:36pm

Some shopping arcades in Auckland CBD are looking like deserted wastelands with vacant shop after vacant shop. 

Business association Heart of the City said the numbers were improving, but there were only four fewer vacancies in the six months to June than there were in the previous six. 

Retail was booming in Commercial Bay by the waterfront, with high foot traffic and premium shops. But further up Queen Street, some areas were deserted, with ‘for lease’ signs becoming part of the street’s decor. 

The famous Strand Arcade was almost completely empty, with only a couple of hairdressers and a beauty salon. 

Shops that did have stock were now open by appointment. 

Empty shops in downtown Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Emma StanfordEmpty shops in downtown Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Emma Stanford 

Property manager Matthew Brown said building compliance issues five years ago resulted in a rise of vacancies. 

“The good news is that this has now been rectified, and planned further investment into the restoration of the building is working towards bringing The Strand back to its former glory. 

“In the interim to support the existing retailers, we’ve been working with the likes of Auckland Council and Heart of the City to bring temporary pop-ups, activation and window installations - and it’s received great feedback. 

“Not only has this seen an increase in interest in the building, there’s been more people, and positively we’ve had an increase in leasing enquiry - with a number of leases recently signed.” 

Statistics from Colliers showed 172 vacant shops in the CBD in the six months to June, only four fewer than December 2022, when it reached its highest. It said more than 50 were in the arcades off Queen Street. 

In December 2019, there were just 33 empty shops. 

Photo: RNZ / Emma StanfordPhoto: RNZ / Emma Stanford 

Retail NZ chief executive Carolyn Young said as soon as there were empty shops in an area off the main street like a mall or arcade, retailers looked at their leasing options as their lease came to renew. 

“What they’re thinking is, ‘well, actually there’s less people coming into the arcade because there’s two or three empty stores’, then they look for somewhere else where there’s greater foot traffic because it is a really difficult time and before you know it, then you just get more and more people moving out of those areas because there’s not enough customers coming through the space to support your business. 

“Very few people can survive solely on knowing they’ve got regular people that will come out of their way to come to them, even though there’s nothing else in the area that they might want to go shopping for.” 

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said vacancy numbers were improving. 

“People are recognising that there is a good future ahead and that there’s a lot of opportunity to come from investment like the City Rail Link and at the lower end of Queen Street for example, where the luxury offering is, we are getting to a point now where demand is outstripping supply. 

“The midtown area is still pretty challenged. There’s a lot of construction still going on, but we are seeing investment here too.” 

Vacancies abound at some Auckland shopping centres. Photo: RNZ / Emma StanfordVacancies abound at some Auckland shopping centres. Photo: RNZ / Emma Stanford 

Young said it would take some investment from landlords to bring spaces up to a standard consumers want in the 2020s. 

“It takes some investment, certainly from landlords. They need to revamp the entrance and the storefronts and all of those areas to make it enticing to get shoppers to come down and for retailers to want to have a space there. 

“You’ve got to create an environment that people want to have a retail experience, and they want to think they’re going into a quality store with great opportunities and there’s other stores nearby that they also want to visit.” 

In the Mid City Arcade, Yue owned Moona Store and said there were less than half the shops there once were. She said it would be good to have more events on, such as fairs and markets to bring in shoppers. 

“I know there’s a lot going on at [the] Viaduct and things, but being in this location with bad traffic and parking we probably need more support in that aspect.” 

Beck said the midtown area was a work in progress, but the arcades were a unique part of Queen Street. 

“There is a pretty active programme of work happening and it’s really a matter of time. At the moment that particular part of the midtown area has got still quite a lot of construction going on around it, but it certainly makes a difference when it appears vibrant and people are enjoying those activations (pop-ups and events). 

“We really see it as a very, very important part of the city centre and we’re quite focused on really supporting it to get through this difficult period and be a very important part of the central city going forward.” 

- Emma Stanford, RNZ 

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