By Luke Voogt
At least 85 shopfronts sit vacant in central Geelong and on Pakington Street, prompting calls for reduced commercial rates and lower rents.
The Independent understands that commercial vacancy rates across Geelong have increased in 2020 – amid COVID-19 – compared to 2019.
But empty “shopfronts are getting filled quickly” as restrictions continue to ease, according to Geelong Chamber of Commerce.
The Independent’s survey found 62 vacant shopfronts in a section of central Geelong and another 23 on Pakington Street.
The survey included sections of Malop, Little Malop, Ryrie, Moorabool and Yarra streets and three empty shops inside Belcher Arcade, which is slated for redevelopment.
“It would make sense that people with low cash flow or that had just started businesses would find themselves in trouble with COVID,” Geelong Chamber of Commerce president Ben Flynn said.
“And it’s really sad that some people’s dreams and businesses have not been able to survive.”
But real estate chamber members reported that vacant shopfronts were filling quickly, Mr Flynn said.
Easing COVID-19 restrictions and Geelong’s rapid population growth put the city “in a really good position to recover”, he said.
“We’re finding that people have growing confidence to invest in 2021.
“I think that the normality will return to the area and – I hope – businesses will be able to get that cash flow to make them profitable.”
A Geelong store owner, who wished to remain anonymous, blamed high rents for the vacancies – an assertion supported by Ratepayers Geelong president Peter Mitchell.
“I know people have looked for business locations in central Geelong and they’ve said that rents are high,” he said.
Mr Mitchell cited commercial rates in Geelong as a deterrent for small businesses.
“What I would like to see is no further increases in commercial rates until they come into line with other councils.”
Commercial rates in Geelong are about 2.4 times higher than residential rates, council stated in June in response to a question from Moorabool Street petrol station operator John Verikios.
According to Mr Verikios, Geelong’s commercial rates are among the highest in Victoria.
The Independent contacted council for comment.