‘Get out now’: empty stores haunt iconic Sydney shopping streets

That was in addition to three rows of closed stores on the strip – 56-76, 82-106 and 110-122 Oxford Street – that are under construction to become a mixed used precinct aimed at revitalising the high street. The precinct will provide 9200 square metres of commercial space for start-ups, 2300 square metres of retail and a 75-room boutique hotel.

Mr Garofano said there were still pockets of Oxford Street that remained active, such as the high fashion precinct that connected to Glenmore Road, but the rest of the strip was facing tough conditions.

The Financial Review this week reported similar headwinds for proprietors of Melbourne’s Bridge Road, in the suburb of Richmond, which had a vacancy rate of 15.5 per cent.

The struggling high streets are another signpost that companies have been pushed to the brink from rising costs, high interest rates – which has softened consumer confidence – and a tougher stance on debt collection by the tax office.

Nationally, the number of company collapses reached a record of 1031 in March and the figure is expected to rise further as more persistent than expected inflation means rates are likely to stay higher for longer.

Across town on King Street, in the inner-west suburb of Newtown, the shopfront mix has also shifted as retailers felt the pinch of consumers having less discretionary income, said Amanda Fisher, who ran the high-end gift store Pentimento on the strip for 25 years before closing its doors in May last year.

Ms Fisher chose not to renew the lease for Pentimento – well known among locals for its curated selection of coffee table books and homewares – as she wanted to do something different after a long stint in retail. But deteriorating conditions made it an easier decision.

“I think I was really smart about it. Certainly, I looked at current conditions and I thought to myself, it’s going to be quite difficult. So I said, ‘it was a good run, get out now’,” she said.

“It’s a perfect storm at the moment. We’ve got inflation. We’ve got higher rent prices, not just commercial rents, local rents. It all falls down to how much money people have to spend. For many small stores, whether it’s fashion or gifts or homewares, whatever it is, they’re ancillary items. You might like to think as a retailer, it’s the most important, but it’s not.”

King Street was still bustling with people, as reflected by its northern end’s more robust vacancy rate of about 8.5 per cent, but various day trade retailers have been replaced by casual eateries such as Malaysian chain restaurant Pappa Rich and Cantonese diner Duk Inn.

Ms Fisher said this was not necessarily bad for the street as the swap of day trade retailers for late-night food venues has rejuvenated the suburb’s nightlife.

While Ms Fisher closed Pentimento on her own terms, other King Street retailers have not been so lucky. Notable closures on the strip included fashion outlet Nique, and alternative clothing and piercing studio Off Ya Tree, which both went out of business in the past two months.

Nique’s stores on Oxford Sand King streets have closed after it fell into voluntary administration in February.  Peter Rae

Nique, founded by Nadia Jones who is the sister of Dior head designer Kim Jones, had stores on both Oxford and King streets. Both were now closed.

On the window of Off Ya Tree’s King Street storefront, a note read: “Take note that the landlord has taken back possession of the premises.”

Handmade porcelain homewares store Mud, which has seven stores on high streets nationally and three stores internationally, said softening retail conditions meant it had revised its budget and lowered its revenue expectations despite attracting more customers.

“What we’re seeing is people aren’t buying for themselves, they’re buying Mud as gifts, so we are getting the same revenue but over more transactions,” Mud executive director James Kirton said.

“That also means we have had to make sure our digital is good as you can’t rely as heavily on the high street presence anymore. But having a good high street store also lends itself to the digital strategy.”

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