In a blow to the Queenstown CBD, major book and stationery store Whitcoulls is shutting shop in Beach Street.
The chain’s boss Brenda Pennycuick says it’s “not a location that is working for us”.
“We never like to be closing stores but it’s a business/commercial decision.”
Asked if it’s related to high rent or the way the business has been going, she says it’s “a combination, really”.
“Queenstown obviously is an expensive location.”
Pennycuick can’t give a date when the store’s closing but it’s believed Whitcoulls is transferring the lease to another tenant.
She also won’t comment on the future of its other local store at Frankton’s Remarkables Park.
The CBD store’s been part of Stratton House since the building opened in 1999.
Queenstowner Mike Davies, whose family is the landlord, says “it’s sad when one of our original tenants moves out, but I guess it’s a sign of the times”.
He won’t comment on the rental level but Mountain Scene understands it’s well shy of the $1600 to $1800 per square metre range that many neighbouring stores pay.
Pointing to the demise of another CBD bookstore, PaperPlus, about 10 years ago, local BayleysLocations leasing agent Marty Barwood says “people don’t buy as many books and as much stationery as they used to”.
Steve Wilde, who heads the DowntownQT lobby group, says Whitcoulls’ closure is “one of the most high-profile casualties of the current situation, which is that proportionately not as many locals are coming into town”.
“The reason is it’s awful to get in here, and they just can’t be bothered.
“Once we solve some of those issues, I really have no doubt the locals will come back.”
Wilde accepts central CBD rents are high.
“But part of what we’re trying to do is activate the fringe of the town centre so that businesses can get cheaper rents.”
Having a transport hub and carparking building on the CBD fringe would encourage more pedestrian traffic along the quieter streets, and therefore more retail, he says.
Till then, he’s predicting more casualties like Whitcoulls.
“In the end, we weren’t able to get some of these big infrastructure projects underway in enough time to save their business, which is a shame.”