STRENGTH IN COMMUNITY: Siblings Angela, left, Juliana and Rowena Foong in their Darby Street store High Tea With Mrs Woo. Picture: Dean Osland
Why have youjoined city traders to urgethe public to shop local in view ofthe traffic chaos in the city caused by the light rail work?
The message is most meaningful when it comes directly from us as Newcastle city retailers. We want to raise awareness and motivate our community to support local businesses through this challenging construction period. Continued patronage ensures that your favourite businesses will still be around when construction ends.
You went to the recent forum when city shops met the NSW small business commissioner. How was it?
It was an important event thatenabled us to listen as well as express our concerns individually and collectively. It helped us better understand the year of infrastructure improvements that lies ahead but also highlighted the severity of its impact to city traders.
How did you feel after it?
Knowledge is powerful; there is more strength in numbers. We are feeling positive that our collective voices have been heard and that we can create better foot, bicycle, car access and parking options in the city.
Your shopisn’t directly affected by the rail work but has it had an effect?
We are hearing often from customers, colleagues and friends, ‘I just don’t come into town anymore.’ The general feeling is that it takes much longer to come into town and more difficult to find a parking spot that’s close to their destination. Like many other city businesses, our store on Darby Street is experiencing lowerfoot traffic and sales.
If people are avoiding town what can be done to entice them back?
Construction works occur on weekdays with tradespeople and city workers fighting for parking! So let’s encourage everyone to visit on the weekends when they are absent. How can we make the city bustling on the weekends? Could the council offer free weekend parking everywhere in the city? Perhaps a free inner city bus service – along Hunter Street, Civic Park, Darby Street, The Mall, Pacific Park and the main beaches – people could spend more time in the city, free transport between places of interest?
Have you been talking with other shops about how to get people into town?
The Darby Street business group is wonderful and active – monthly meetings to brainstorm ideas on street improvement and accessibility for customers. We have also been speaking with other city traders such as the Newcastle Art Gallery, High Swan Dive and Estabar and feeling a strong sense for collaboration and cross-promotion to work together to keep the city vibrant by hosting events and in-store experiences.
Some say there’s never been more city parking, but people are just thinking it’s all too hard to come in?
I live in Carrington and it certainly takes a lot longer to come into town, especially at peak times – streets are closed, traffic diverted and routes re-routed! I also have two young children and empathise with other parents that the additional car-travel time can be a deterrent to drive to town. I prefer to ride into town on our cargo bike – the journey is often quicker and much more enjoyable.
What are the benefits of shopping local?
We are so proud to be one of the established independent traders that is unique to Newcastle’s culture. Shopping local values, endorses and supports Newcastle’s diverse culture – each with our own interesting storefronts on main and back streets; offering relevant and unique products and experiences to their community; servicing your neighbourhood, your family.
High Tea has been open 17 years. What’s the secret?
It’s perseverence! Our commitment to n-made, natural fibres and Slow Clothing values has kept us on a clear path. We work hard to maintain a strong family business but being based in Newcastle and having incredibly supportive parents, partners, friends, customers and community has definitely kept our business going.
What is in the pipeline?
So many projects! A highlight is the ‘Slow Wearing Weekend’, in August that we will launch at the Newcastle Art Gallery with a series of in-store events city stores. Watch this space.
How is your new spaceThe Fernery going?
We are so delighted by how quickly our community has embraced it! We host Retrokombico coffee kombi on Friday mornings from 7am, and will be opening up a creative studio space there for daily/weekend /weekly hire – to host workshops, exhibitions, pop-up stores, events, markets and gatherings, Watch this space too!
Newcastle is too gentrified now: true or false?
Fashion focus: Angela, Juliana and Rowena Foong in their Darby Street store High Tea With Mrs Woo. Picture: Dean Osland
We love living in this incredible place we call home. It is growing and we’re excited for its future. It has the potential to be a truly unique city, but our decision-makers and town-planners need to be more creative, cultured and courageous! Offer alternate ways of living (smaller; better quality; co-ops, co-housing); focus on community and the sharing-economy; less cars, more bikes. Protect the city from over-development by making it people-orientated, at the ground level; support small independent traders; make space for art. Newcastle wants to be a city where commerce, community and charity meet well.