Valley the victim of retail trends

A report in last Thursday’s Courier-Mail highlighted the decline of Fortitude Valley as a retail hub:

‘Boarded-up shops and “for lease” signs are regular sights in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley as retailers abandon the once-bustling area…

…Chairman of the CBD’s Economic Development Board, coffee king Phillip Di Bella, said there was a problem and more retailers would go out of business unless there was a change.

“The biggest problem is that retailing is in big trouble,” Mr Di Bella said.

“Dick Smith, Howards Storage, Masters have all gone out of business and there will be many more.”’

Mr Di Bella identified a lack of parking in the Valley as an issue, which may well be the case, and Council should be receptive to any plans for new multi-storey car parks. Another possible intervention that would improve the attractiveness of the Valley, in my view, would be re-opening the Brunswick St Mall to traffic, as I have long considered the Mall was a huge mistake:

Brunswick St Mall should have been re-opened to traffic

Improvements such as these may help, but I would suggest fundamental economic trends are against the Valley re-emerging as a major retail destination. Those trends are:

  • online shopping, obviously, which will become even more important as same-day delivery by drone increases in prevalence; and
  • the trend toward highly-efficient big box stores in outer suburbs with huge floor areas and ample parking, such as Ikea at Logan and North Lakes.

The impact of these trends on traditional retailers is possibly showing up in the recorded fall in retail trade’s share of the economy, measured in terms of employment and value added (see charts below). The noticeable decline in retail trade’s share of total part-time jobs has no doubt disproportionately affected young people.

retail_chart1

retail_chart2

So the decline of retail in the Valley is consistent with broader trends affecting the retail sector, although there may well be Valley-specific factors such as those identified by Mr Di Bella. Fortunately, other sectors appear to be doing just fine in the Valley. As the Courier-Mail article suggests, the Valley’s night-time economy is thriving, and the Valley nightclubs will be very pleased the Queensland Government backed down on its 1am lockout law. Also, being so close to the CBD, the Valley is highly suitable for office accommodation and residential apartments.

Finally, I should note deregulating retail trading hours would be highly desirable, and may provide a boost to remaining Valley retailers. The Queensland Government should have received John Mickel’s review of trading hours regulation by now, and I am keenly awaiting the Government’s response to his recommendations, which are widely expected to include a significant deregulation of trading hours.

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