Mall to Main: Businesses tick of approval

Increasing traffic and the flow on to business was the primary reason for reopening Stawell's Main Street to traffic almost a decade ago, so has it done what it was intended to do?

Business owners operate in almost unanimous agreement that the decision was made for the betterment of the town and the results are there for everyone to see.

They cite that a street open to traffic has brought more people into the central business district and has turned what had become a dark and at times unsafe backwater into a vibrant meeting place.

Foster's Mensland manager David Kaczynski said his business had grown substantially and continues to grow on the back of having two-way traffic through the Main Street.

"It is certainly an improvement, it definitely helped the traffic flow and to bring life to the street, because before that it had become very lifeless," he said.

"I think it just showed that malls don't work in small towns, because for people walking past it always looked very quiet and that we weren't open."

When opened on November 8, 1978 the Gold Reef Mall was the first mall for country Victoria and only the second of its type to be opened in Australia.

With that in mind it was always going to be a struggle to justify that having the central business district closed to traffic would be beneficial long term.

Mr Kaczynski said he believed beautification and maintenance works had more than compensated for the loss of the mall.

"You only have to look at the number of seats, garden beds and the size of the retained sidewalks and there is ample and additional parking close by," he said.

Sportspower's Shane Young agreed that his business has grown ten-fold in the decade since the redevelopment.

"So much better, it was dead before, the traffic has added much more life to it," he said.

"People can actually see that we are open. When they only had the option of looking from the top or bottom of the street they wouldn't know if we were or not."

Mr Young said the impacts of having the street open to traffic were felt immediately.

"Just in the first year we noticed more foot traffic. We are open from 8.45am until 6pm every day and the number of people we got after 5.30pm back then was nothing compared to today," he said.

"Now after people have finished work you'll see them drive past, pull up, come in and get extra sales," he said.

Grampians Pharmacy's Sue Gunnell and Alison Martin both agreed that the Main Street is far better now that it is open, but that it could be improved even further.

"It brings people into the street a lot better than what the mall ever did," Ms Gunnell said.

"I reckon it should be one way traffic with parking on either side, it can be a little restricted and narrow," Mrs Martin said.

Kath Odd, who only recently closed her Stawell Toyworld business, went a step further, saying opening the main strip to road traffic has done nothing for the town.

"Taking the mall restricted the activities of people, it brought with it traffic and stopped children from being able to play freely while their parents shopped," she said.

"I disagreed with the decision at the time and I still disagree with it now."

Mrs Odd firmly believes the responsibility for any existing issues being faced by businesses rests with council.

"The real issue I had was that the decision that was made wasn't a unanimous decision with the ratepayers. The council at the time was just on a mission to open it," she said.

"Council has a lot to answer for... the removal of allowing us to display stock out the front of the shop really restricted my business."

Northern Grampians Shire Council Manager Business Services and Tourism, Debbie Bach, said council has an investment program that is intent on promotion and maintaining a good developmental relationship.

"We are working with business to develop a good relationship and act as a good point of contact through our Business Assistance Scheme," she said.

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