Central city Christchurch retail is showing signs of post-Covid recovery, with two new stores departing the suburbs to open in the Riverside Market and the launch of a new CBD central factory outlet laneway.
Nick Doig, director of retail leasing at Colliers International in Christchurch, says Covid has prompted some retailers to look at the more “open air” environment afforded by the central city.
“The lockdown was a shock for all of us and I think recent experiences have made people reassess their options both from a personal and business perspective. When talking with retailers recently, they’re being encouraged by the growing atmosphere in the CBD and a desire for a more open environment.
“Before the lockdown, the central city was really starting to hum. It’s no secret that some businesses have found it hard since then, but the feedback we’re getting is that both retailers and customers are welcoming life back in the CBD.”
Doig points to the two new recently signed Riverside leases.
Nevada Sport, which sells the popular Merrell, Patagonia and Wolverine brands, is leaving Westfield in Riccarton after five years to shift to the CBD, transacting its lease of 120sqm during lockdown.
Director Hamish Cochran was lured by the momentum for hospitality and shopping in the CBD.
“There’s an increasingly good and exciting vibe. It’s important for Christchurch to regain its heart and soul as it rebuilds and we want to be part of it. Merrell and Patagonia consumers are very brand loyal, active, lifestyle orientated people who focus on good adventures and good experiences every day. We kept hearing from them and our friends that they were not really mall shoppers and they prefer ‘open air’ style stores.
“We’re opening in Riverside mid-July and are really excited about having a more spacious store with great natural light.”
Nevada has seven stores in New Zealand, with the family business born in Christchurch more than 40 years ago. They are the longest standing Merrell distributer worldwide.
Upmarket menswear store Working Style is quitting Merivale for the CBD in early September. The boutique retailer is moving into Riverside Market, with a new 150sqm space overlooking the Bridge of Remembrance.
Working Style first opened its door in central city Christchurch in 2000, in Colombo St opposite Ballantynes. It remained there until the earthquakes destroyed its store.
“Obviously a key thing for us is that we started life in Christchurch in the CBD but were forced to move after the earthquakes,” says founder Chris Dobbs.
“Merivale looked after us very well straight after the earthquakes but it’s time to return to the central city now that it’s reached a critical mass. We really do have to be in the centre of town.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback from our customers that driving out to see us is no longer an option. It was the right thing to do post-earthquake but it’s not any more for us. It’s become increasingly clear to us that our strategy for the future needed to change. It’s a really seminal moment for us and we do feel that for the future of our business, we have to be in the centre of the city.”
Dobbs says that the CBD will provide a buzz because of surrounding retailers, hospitality and offices.
“This sort of retail offers character, natural light and plenty of business traffic. It’s important to become part of a business community and a part of their busy day.”
The optimistic mood is echoed by Richard Peebles, co-owner of Riverside Market.
He says post Covid has brought with it a different sentiment, with shoppers enjoying the freedom of the CBD more than ever and tenants looking for flexible landlords who will work with them.
“It’s really starting to pump on the weekends again and getting busier during the week as office workers return. The CBD was getting a really good vibe before Covid and that’s certainly coming back with a vengeance now.”
So confident is Peebles and nearby fellow developers that they are combining to open what they’ve dubbed the Central Factory Outlet laneway running from Ballantynes through to Riverside. The development is a series of flexible retail spaces that CFO will all but fit out.
“We’re really trying to de-risk it as much as possible for retailers by finishing the stores to the point where they can move in, add their branding and stock the space. I think flexibility is a key issue for tenants – we really worked hard during lockdown to look after our retailers in Riverside by offering them three months of rent relief.
“At the CFO, we are removing the barriers with opening a new store. We’re offering outlets competitive turnover rentals, no personal guarantees and flexible lease terms. This makes it extremely easy for the tenant to move in and allows retailers to get back into the city centre without the normal long-term overheads,” Peebles says.
“We have some amazing pre-existing tenants in the area, and along with our exciting new offerings, we will create a centralised social media campaign that uses all of their databases combined to get it out to the wider Christchurch that the CFO is open.”
A newcomer to Christchurch, streetwear store ilaab is opening along CFO lane together with locally based apparel brand Alchemy Equipment, Picture Organic and a new sportswear outlet, Peebles expects to sign another two retailers shortly.