FOR almost 13 years the Red Door Bookshop has been a splash of colour on Warragul’s Queen Street, but after long consideration proprietor Wayne Hardie has made the decision to close.
First published in the 27 March 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen
Mr Hardie told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen closing the shop was not an easy decision to make.
“There’s a few reasons why we’re closing,” he said.
“The premises is going to be sold, and I expect when it’s sold the purchaser will want vacant possession so I’ve got to accommodate that. Trade for second hand book stores is not as robust as what it once was.
Mr Hardie said it was often a surprise to people when they found out the bookshop was actually a tourism business.
“In the past, about 15 per cent of the people who came through the front door were visitors to the town, but they spent about 85 per cent of the revenue of the shop,” he said.
“What has happened over the last three to five years is the number of visitors to the town, particularly on the weekends, has significantly decreased.
“The tourism-type attractions that would attract people to Warragul just don’t exist anymore. The Gourmet Deli Trail, things like that.
“All tourism marketing these days tends to take people off the freeway at Sand Road and direct them to Jindivick, Neerim South, Baw Baw, Walhalla, perhaps Yarragon, but it all ignores Warragul.
“And people are just not coming into Warragul at weekends, which at the beginning was our very busiest time.
“A shop like this cannot exist solely on the custom driven locally, it needs that additional traffic and we just haven’t had it.”
Mr Hardie is not new to doing business in Warragul. His family moved to the district in 1874 and his father ran a paint shop in Warragul with his brothers. Schooled in Warragul, Wayne later attended Melbourne University and returned to Warragul to start business as a solicitor. That business ran for over 20 years until shortly after he was appointed chairman of commissioners to the Baw Baw Shire Council for the amalgamation period of 1994-1997. He was a consultant until he started the Red Door Bookshop on 4 May 2002.
Mr Hardie recalled answering questions from what was then The Warragul Citizen in 2011 on online competition. Then he said business was not so bad and while online competion was an influence, he did not consider it to be a significant factor at the time. Not long after, trade became more difficult.
“I don’t want to be an online bookseller, I want to be a shop front bookseller,” he said last week.
“I remember you talked to me in June 2011 and you asked me then if online selling of books was making an impact on the book store, and I said no, but it may in the future. Over the past four years there has been a change in the consumer’s approach to buying books. It’s interesting; we might sell a book for $10, they might find it online for $8 but with $10.50 postage and they’ll buy it online for reasons that are a bit hard to understand. It’s impossible to compete with that.
“[As for] e-books, that market has become stable at about 11-12 per cent of the market. Clearly that has had some impact, but it’s not the biggest cause of difficulties that we would find in this business.
“By far the biggest difficulty for our bookshop in Warragul is the lack of visitors to the town.”
One big change Mr Hardie has seen in the local economy over the 13 years he has run the bookshop was the the rise of vacant shop-fronts.
“Warragul as a commercial centre has diminished significantly in the last 10 years,” he said.
“I think that local government has not been as attentive to the difficulties in the Warraugl CBD as they should have been.
“I think, quite frankly, the local council has overseen the decay of Warragul as a commercial centre.
“I’ve lived in Warraugl all my life, my father had a shop in Warragul from the mid-1940s on, I’ve been in business in this town myself since the end of 1971. There are shops vacant now that have never been vacant in all my lifetime.”
As shops have closed, the options available locally have diminished.
“Traditionally, Warragul has never had the benefit of really big booms, and it has never had busts, it has just traded in a nice oscillation around the middle and everyone has been comfortable,” Mr Hardie said.
“My observation is that the businesses that are succeeding in Warragul at the moment are the ones that benefit from national advertising. The difficulty is that the other businesses are not succeeding, and people are finding that they are now going to other places to get what was once provided in this town.”
He used the example of the decline of men’s and women’s wear shops, which he said he expected more closures of soon, as well as specialty shops.
He also noted the town could be reinvigorated if the Baw Baw Shire took a stronger approach to town planning but it may be difficult to draw big box retailers to the area at the moment.
“We have a major difficulty in Warragul with the non-development of the former milk factory site,” Mr Hardie said.
“There are arguably many reasons why that hasn’t happened, but to my mind the council well and truly should have bitten the bullet by now and caused some development to have occurred.
“Whether or not that’s coming to an arrangement with the present owner of the property or whether or not the council should have compulsorily acquired the land is another thing.
“I think it’s a pity the council hasn’t addressed that seriously over time. I don’t know whether it’s holding economic progress back, but it’s inhibiting good design of the commercial centre and inhibiting opportunities.
“It used to be said that Big Ws and Kmarts and big box stores might want to come to Warragul. I’ve got to say these days I would be very surprised if we could attract businesses like that Warragul having regard to the prevailing economic conditions in the town.”
Other smaller issues have affected the viability of some parts of town for certain kinds of businesses.
“I think local government enforcing their parking rules would assist greatly,” he said.
“We have great difficulty in this area with business owners and people who work in businesses in the area parking on the street but council seems to have other priorities than enforcing its parking rules.
“The duplicating of the lanes through the Queen/Smith Streets roundabout also made it incredibly difficult for people to walk across the street and people are tending not to do that. If they can’t get a park in front of the bookshop, they won’t cross the street. However, I think the duplication was necessary and it would be inappropriate to suggest that should not have been done to avoid impacting businesses on our side of the street.
“Any infrastructure work has consequences.”
The final closure date of the Red Door Bookshop is yet to be determined, but when Mr Hardie finally shuts that door for the last time it will be at the end of a successful chapter of his life.
“It was never meant to be a huge money spinner, it was meant to be something that occupied me and something I enjoyed doing, and it has done that,” Mr Hardie said.
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