Following a string of small business closures, 2010 Business Partnership president Lawrence Gibbons warned that a once-thriving LGBTI precinct could disappear.
“When the community complains about the problem rather than being proactive and supporting local businesses and campaigns like the Big Gay Weekend initiative, then that’s when you lose things,” Gibbons said.
After years of falling daytime trade, small retailers and restaurants including Betty’s Soup Kitchen, Battuta Café, Hum Records and House of Fetish have closed in the past few months while other shops lie empty.
Gibbons said the spate of closures was in part the fault of the City of Sydney’s planning and management strategy.
“Council emptied a lot of its properties in order to work on their plans,” he said. “What that meant was hundreds of people who would normally be eating and buying on the strip during the day weren’t there any more.”
Gibbons said a focus on late-night trading and Oxford St’s proximity to two large Westfields added to small businesses woes, while the RTA had to shoulder some responsibility for removing parking on the street and installing bus lanes.
However, Gibbons expressed optimism that the council and the community could pull together to make daytime trade viable again.
“We’re hopeful that council’s creative industries plan to rent out empty shops at reduced rates to new and emerging creative businesses will bring some trade back to the area,” he said.
An RTA spokesperson said it took the concerns of local businesses seriously.
“The Oxford St bus lanes have been in place since around 1997 and there is no indication they have contributed to businesses shutting,” the spokesperson said.
“They operate between the morning peak citybound and evening peak outbound. At other times of the day motorists can park where it is considered safe to gain access to local shops.”
A City of Sydney spokesperson acknowledged the need for greater business diversity.
“We need to attract greater diversity in commercial and retail businesses to ensure its position as a retail, tourism and creative hotspot,” the spokesperson said.
“The city will carry out works to vacant council properties to create more attractive shopfronts and staff will identify the types of existing businesses in the area and explore options to diversify the mix in its own properties.”