Article published by The Hawkesbury Gazette
Main streets, town centres, malls, thoroughfares, high streets and shopping centres are the lifeblood of local communities … and it is no different in the Hawkesbury.
After years of hardships, from bushfires, to floods, to COVID-19 and now the cost-of-living crisis, the whole region is fighting its way back.
Small, locally owned businesses are important to the community, the local economy and job market. That is why Mainstreet Australia is celebrating the high streets and town centres throughout this week.
Running from Monday, May 15 to Sunday May 21, Main Streets of Australia Week calls on communities to shop local and support small business owners who are doing it tough.
“Main Streets of Australia Week is a time for our community to come together and show support for the local businesses that make our main streets so special,” said Mainstreet Australia Executive Officer, Liz Joldeski.
“We are proud to represent the retailers, small businesses and service providers who are the backbone of our communities, and we encourage everyone to shop local and support these businesses during this week and all year round.”
Windsor Mall is one of the most well-known and used thoroughfares in the Hawkesbury.
Windsor Business Group Treasurer, Sue Paine, said town centres create a hub for the local area.
“If you’ve got a healthy town centre, you’ve usually got a healthy community. Simple as that,” she said.
However, she did express the importance of consistent local trade throughout the week.
“Yes, the town centre in Windsor is busier than it used to be, but the reality is that much of the business for the retail and the cafés is of a weekend,” she said.
“The community needs to know that they’re there to start with. You do have a portion of the community that moves here, but still will shop outside the area. And you also have the competition that the likes of Penrith and Rouse Hill and Castle Hill create.
“While we don’t have that sort of development here, we can actually supply everything, but people sometimes will go to one place where they can do multiple things.
“Now in the Hawkesbury, they might have to go to Richmond for something and Windsor for something else. So if they can go to Rouse Hill and do the whole lot, then happy to do that. And that’s what we need to overcome.”
The Windsor Business Group believes that local business should be promoted wherever possible.
Manor on George – a boutique home, furniture and giftware store located in Windsor Mall – is own and operated by Ben Woodbury, who is born and bred in the Hawkesbury.
Having opened in Windsor in 2018, Manor on George has experienced all the challenges of recent years.
“Retail shopping isn’t what it was. Windsor Mall hasn’t been what it was since the glory days, but it’s definitely better than it has been in the last decade. I think every shopfront is filled, so it’s good,” said Mr Woodbury.
“I feel people are getting comfortable being outdoors again and Windsor Mall is great for that, but it’s been a hard slog, because it’s all your own effort.
“As much as there’s been government support, it’s nothing compared to the impacts that you’re suffering when it comes to a flood and you shut down, or a pandemic. So retail has been difficult and it’s a bit more challenging when it’s in a small town.”
Mr Woodbury has evolved Manor on George by going online, which has kept the store open.
“The pandemic really changed the way people shop and we are predominantly online. Most of our sales are online,” he said.
“I wish it was the other way around, where it was from people coming by. We have the Windsor markets, which are great. So the weekends are busy. But it’s not what it was.
“Most people are just comfortable buying online, because that’s the way it was for three years.”
Mr Woodbury is looking positively to the future of Windsor Mall and the businesses it is home to.
“Things are looking up. We’ve basically survived a bible of events – floods, fire, famine and the plague – so I just hope things get better.
“They definitely are changing and getting better and I think it’s great that council is working with us to bring about that, because it’s in their best interest at the end of the day that their community is vibrant and thriving, and shopfronts are full.”
Ms Paine said to get more trade coming to Windsor Mall was a chicken or an egg question, “do you get the people to come to Windsor? Or do you get the businesses to come to Windsor, first?”.
“How do we get more businesses? I think it’s about what people want more than what government wants. I really do,” she said.
“Because small businesses is not based on what government wants. Small business is based on what people want to do, what businesses they want to set themselves up. And the success is often whether that’s a correct decision in what is marketable to clients.”