It was the summer season of the perfect trifecta … sunshine, happy visitors and upbeat retailers.
It is the most positive retail picture to emerge for Merimbula and Pambula since the GFC hit six years ago and there is a real sense of optimism that the upswing will be maintained.
But on no account was it a boom, but after the tough times endured, there is no denying that retailers have hit a sweet spot.
The News Weekly, in its traditional summer holiday wrap up story, sought the opinion of a number of retailers and club representatives as to how they saw the holiday trade.
The general consensus was that the towns of Merimbula and Pambula were busier with heavy foot traffic and that tourists seemed more inclined to spend than in previous years.
Retail received a kick start late November through to December 20 when the Merimbula Chamber of Commerce ran its Christmas retail promotion that attracted 12,000 entries. Chamber president Natalie Godward said they were overwhelmed by the result.
She said feedback that she had received indicated that the holiday trade had been “very good”.
“Confidence seems to have come back to consumers and there was a really nice vibe around the town,” Mrs Godward said.
At the Merimbula Newsagency, owner Darryl Hay said sales of books, gift lines and games rebounded and sales of Christmas cards and calendars had been good.
“Visitors seemed much happier and were keener to spend their discretionary dollar,” Mr Hay said.
In Pambula things were really humming, Marie Worden, of Mrs Mac’s Emporium said, even to the point there was bumper to bumper traffic day after day.
“It’s been a fantastic summer and it started two weeks before Christmas. “There was lots of foot traffic, the traffic was bumper to bumper and tourists seemed keen to explore the entire shire. There has definitely been an upturn. I started to feel it immediately after the federal election. It hasn’t had that type of impact before but I certainly think it did this time around,” Mrs Worden said.
Good weather for fishing meant that Merimbula Seafoods was able to provide customers with the freshest local catch. “We did very well,” owner David Swan said.
“Customers were quite excited to see us carving fish out the back, a different experience from buying fish in the supermarket.”
He said many customers returned during their stay and were keen to know what worked best on the barbie.
It was a more muted story at the Merimbula Lakeview Hotel. “We were down a bit, 7 per cent,” said owner Dennis Souter. “There were certainly plenty of people around, but the empty supermarket shelves indicated a lot of the tourists were eating in.”
The summer trade was up on last year for Ian Swan of Swannies Clothing and his recently opened Mensland shop.
He said the town had a more positive vibe. “Trade has picked up, after a couple of years of tough retail conditions.”
It was one of the best for Dawn Ramsey of A Touch of Pink. “It was fantastic; I am so happy it is one of the best seasons I’ve had and the visitors were happy as well.” She said a couple of new shops in Market Street and the Christmas decorations particularly on the Promenade had given the town a lift and had made it more inviting for shoppers.
It was a “very mixed” result for Club Sapphire.
“No doubt we had good numbers through the club; there was good growth in food, but not in the bar or gaming. Entertainment was comparable with last year, so all up our total revenue was down.”
Natalie Kell, owner of The Commercial Hotel, Pambula said it was “fantastic.”
“It was great to see Pambula busy. It’s been a good summer and good holiday trade. Every time I looked down the street, our little town was a buzz.”
Visitor numbers were up by 2.5 per cent at Merimbula RSL Club and 70 per cent of guests used the dining room, club secretary manager Michael Mutsch said.
“Spending patterns have changed – gaming suffered, it’s lost its gloss, but bar sales were good and of course the dining room was very popular.”
Customers were more than happy to open their wallets at Tackleworld Merimbula.
While customer numbers were down by 135 on last year, trade was definitely up, said owner Gael Vanderdrift. She said visitors bought everything from fishing lures to dive gear to GoPro cameras - new to their stock this season.
“People were happy to spend,” Mrs Vanderdrift said.
Owner of the Merimbula Surf Shop and Fatman and the Goddess, Simon Emms said: “I think the whole town did well. What nice people we had here; everything about it was good. Sales were very strong – the best in five years.”
It was a “pretty good season, but could have been better,” for Michael Standen of Merimbula Divers Lodge. He said he thought there were more people in town but that did not translate to his till. He said there was still an element of belt-tightening; we haven’t had a fantastic year since the GFC. He said the enquiry level was good but poor organisation on the part of visitors meant many left the area without their dive.
“You can’t walk in here at 3pm and expect to go for a dive on your last day of holidays,” Mr Standen said.