STRUGGLE STREET: There's an empty feeling in Prince St
DESPITE an exodus of stores from Grafton's Prince St CBD, Grafton Chamber of Commerce president Phil Belletty says the chamber is confident there are positive signs for businesses in the area.
In the stretch of Prince St between Fitzroy St and Pound St, there are nine empty shopfronts gathering dust in Grafton's busy CBD.
While some stores, such as Buckley's Music, have relocated from Prince St to a larger store, and Dick Smith was the victim of a nationwide closure of the business, Mr Belletty said it was unclear why so many shopfronts remained empty in Prince St.
"I think that in a number of cases it was just a matter where their time has run," he said.
"I don't have any comment on the rents because I don't know enough about it.
"While there are businesses that are closing, you're seeing others that are coming back, like Rivers, which is really interesting."
Mr Belletty said despite appearances, there was still interest in Grafton.
"There are new businesses coming to Grafton, which we are taking a positive from," he said.
"We've had a number of calls from different businesses that want to open up in Grafton. While some are closing, over the next six months we should see a renewal of those older stores, and at the end of the day there are businesses that have seen an opportunity in Grafton, andover the next three to five years and over the long-term will be opportunities here."
One store that has defied the trend in Prince St is MacLeods Furniture Court, which opened after 12 months of redevelopment in March this year.
Owner Andrew MacLeod said business needed more than a central location in Prince St to be successful.
"It's my view that we had to invest in the business itself with fitouts and make sure we gave the store a first-class look and feel," he said. "Grafton seemed a bit unloved, and I wanted to show it some love."
Mr MacLeod said with the planned infrastructure investment from both state and federal tiers of government, Grafton was on the verge of a business boom. "I've been watching Grafton for a number of years, and now the timing is right," he said.
"I am currently praising Grafton to other business owners, and I think there are many who could find an opportunity in Grafton.
"I don't think people in Grafton want to travel to dotheir business, they want to stay in town and spend their money locally, so with that in mind if you give them a viable option to travelling Ithink the results will follow."
Mr Belletty said the chamber had been working with business owners and entrepreneurs to connect with property owners to try to encourage investment opportunities.
"For me, it's about getting the critical mass of people needed to really get the growth in our retail businesses," he said.
"We've got more people moving here off the back of a great number of infrastructure projects, we're working with Clarence Valley Council and Infrastructure NSW to see what opportunities there are for our community, and I think we're going to see a lot of businesses going well."