By Veronica Anassis
After four decades on Oxford Street serving the leather, BDSM, and queer communities, Sax Fetish has been unceremoniously evicted from its premises. The notice was delivered days before Christmas on behalf of development firm, AsheMorgan.
“The very first and only communication I’ve had from Ashe Morgan was an eviction notice,” says Wayne Nicol, managing director of Sax.
“I was physically sick. I was physically ill for seven days after we received it.’
Sax has been given until the end of January to vacate. This is right before the lucrative Mardi Gras, which pulls in 20% of their turnover.
“I have to be out just prior to the busiest time of my year. If this happens, my business is not viable. It will leave me broke.’
AsheMorgan’s rush to banish the Sax legacy has unsettled the community because a development application is not even in place yet.
On the 25th of November the City signed off on a deal for a 99 year lease to refurbish 14,508sqm on the North side of Oxford Street. Council has stressed that the new developer’s plan will pay ‘homage to the past,’ and the street’s electric cultural heritage.
But many believe this is merely a step by government to ‘clean up’ sex shops and queer venues.
“There is a plan to get rid of a lot of the sex stores, the strippers, the nightclubs and all of that” said Paddington veteran Richard Savvy, who operates The Naked Barber in Oxford Street.
“When [Lord Mayor] Clover Moore* brought out the first round of lock out laws— they only lasted for about 6 months—but it was just mainly the gay clubs and pubs on Oxford St … it was just picking on this little area.”
[Ed: Lockout laws were actually introduced by the NSW Government under Barry O’Farrell in 2014]
There are doubts AsheMorgan’s vision will have any cultural integrity or commercial success. ‘Creative spaces’ posted in the past have fallen flat in a slew of botch-jobs by government.
“You can’t just send in the bulldozers and think you’re going to build a community around it overnight,” says Nicol. “We have been so integral in the empowerment of young people for a very long time.”
“Who’s next?” he added, pointing out that other iconic stores such as Aussie Boys may soon leave.
“I mean, we’ve got [Worldpride] 2023 coming up… If they have no community and culture around it, there’s going to be nothing to see. If you drive it out now it’s not going to return in twenty-twenty three.”
City Of Sydney councilor, Prof Kerryn Phelps, feels there needs to be a balance between enhancing the area and preserving its cultural heritage, while also showing respect to its long term inhabitants.
“For several years I have been expressing concern about the treatment of tenants in the city of Sydney‘s properties on Oxford Street. The 99 year lease to Ashe Morgan is likely to bring much-needed revitalisation to the area, however the treatment of the existing long term tenants by the council as landlord has been nothing short of atrocious.
“These businesses have helped to form the foundation and character of Oxford Street, in some cases for decades. I asked council several months ago to ensure that there was community consultation, detailed communication with existing tenants and a smooth transition to the new landlord but this was voted down. That is just not good enough.”
A City of Sydney spokesperson was contacted for comment and provided the following statement:
Last year the City of Sydney announced it was leasing three blocks of properties on Oxford Street to real estate investment group AsheMorgan under a 99-year lease.
The project will activate more than 12,000 square metres of floor space for a diverse range of uses, bringing hundreds of jobs to the area.
As part of the agreement, AsheMorgan will continue to provide affordable space for cultural and creative tenants.
Ashe Morgan is now the responsible landlord for all commercial, retail and creative tenancies in the properties at 56–76 Oxford Street, 82–106 Oxford Street and 110–122 Oxford Street.
All existing tenants were transferred to AsheMorgan, enabling them to continue to occupy their premises and run their business under the conditions of their current lease agreements.
Sax Fetish were offered a long-term lease by the City from as early as 2009, but opted to remain on a month-to-month lease. The owner of Sax Fetish was reminded of this lease offer as late as July 2018.