Breathing new life into the CBD
By KIERAN FINNANE
There are ripples of activity at either end of Todd Mall. At the southern end, a new travel shop is shouting out from the corner of Gregory Terrace and Todd Street, the first business to open there after a string of closures and relocations. And at the northern end, there’s a new cafe, Ziggiz, and this week Piccolo’s restaurant relocated to where Oscar’s used to be.
No-one can have missed the artwork on the travel shop, but inside there’s more to it than its new look and the usual booking service. The core attraction is access to Wicked Campers. There are reasonably conventional-looking hatchbacks for two people, fitted out with a double bed and equipped with basic cooking gear, or else five-person vans with a rooftop tent. Both come at the same price, $299 for a round trip to The Rock over two nights and three days.
Manager Sara Bangs was head-hunted from Wicked Campers in Perth to manage the business, which also acts as an agent for Tribal Tours. The shop’s been open about two weeks. Customers are coming in off the street and online. There’s a good mix, she says: “We’ve had a couple in their sixties taking a car, it’s not just for backpackers.”
Quite a few locals have also looked in: “They’re glad someone has moved in and they like the artwork.”
Asher Tuzewski is the man behind Ziggiz cafe, tucked into a little shopfront of the cinema complex. He had his IT business in there before he moved it into a new location at the southern end, on the corner of the mall and Reg Harris Lane. That was six months ago – “it’s going great guns now” – and being a demon for work, he was ready to do something in the shopfront over which he still had a lease.
“I always had a yearning for the good old days,” he says, “when you could go to a cafe before or after the movies. It was one of the things I really liked to do, to have a chat with friends about the movie we’d just seen, but it didn’t exist anymore. That whole social experience of going to the movies was not there. And I thought if I was hankering for it other people probably were too.”
It opened about three weeks ago, at first selling only coffee, but not any old coffee. They tried lots of varieties before finally settling on their own special blend, sourced from a Brisbane roaster. Next they introduced cakes, baked daily and exclusive to them – things like chocolate eclairs, profiteroles, almond Florentines, chocolate-dipped meringues. Soon there’ll be hot breakfast foods: “I’m a ‘small steps’ kinda guy – one step at a time and get each one right,” says Asher.
They open early, by 7.30am, and close late, the exact time depending on what’s happening at the cinema.
“In the cities you can go to a cafe day or night but in Alice Springs there was nowhere like that. We’re the only non-alcoholic venue open late. It’s a cultural readjustment.”
They’ve got games, everything from chess and backgammon to pickup sticks and Uno: “People play them all the time, or just sit and have a chat – you don’t have to go to the movies.”
Being right next to the Todd Tavern and drive-in bottleshop, it’s not always an easy place to do business. The dark carparks in the vicinity are also a problem. The cafe has frequent contact with police and security services and Asher has been lobbying to have better lighting throughout the area.
But the simple fact of the cafe’s presence makes a contribution to improved security at the northern end: “We’re an extra pair of eyes in the area and we’ve been able to help clamp down on some issues.”
At present a team of nine people keeps Ziggis open, with one full-timer and hopefully a second in a few weeks’ time, as the cafe gets busier.
Asher, who grew up in Alice, sees the cafe as part of a big picture: “It’s the same as with the Mac shop. It supports the community, grows business and employment. It delivers better skills and more skills back into the town and creates opportunities for the next generation that didn’t exist for our own generation. I want people to believe in this town.”
Pictured, from top: Signage you can’t miss, the new travel shop on the corner of Gregory Terrace and Todd Street. • Finishing touches at Piccolo’s on opening day last Monday. • Manager of the travel shop, Sara Bangs. • Barista Melissa at Ziggiz cafe • Ziggis a welcome new presence at the northern end of the mall, often a hot spot for anti-social behaviour.
Past coverage of issues in Todd Mall on this site includes:
Nose-diving CBD: it happened on the 11th Council’s watch
We need public-friendly public places
Downward spiral or shuddering readjustment?
Revealing the spirit of Parsons Street
Will Alice Plaza businesses turn around?
Northern mall and Parsons Street get top priority in revamp of town centre