By ERWIN CHLANDA
Will pop-up shops save Todd Mall?
Maybe, says Ann de Marco (above, centre), but let’s not expect an easy remedy to the decline of business in our Main Drag: It’s all about what you are selling, and how you are selling it.
After 35 years of trading in the northern end of Todd Street, the last 24 of them as it went through several incarnations of a mall, the unfailingly successful owner of Novita Gifts wouldn’t dream of leaving it.
And that’s while shops on her eastern side are shut or battling, and the Plaza on the western side is – finally – joining the latest resuscitation bid.
When for months the $5m Mall upgrade was under way, amidst dust and noise, and piles of dirt making access to her shop all but impossible, Ms de Marco stood her ground. And customers said they would climb mountains to get to her.
Now, as a good part of the area resembles a ghost town, and locals are taking flight to online buying, she has doubled the size of her shop, and it’s business better than ever.
“We’re open seven days a week, keep high quality stock, give good service, and we’re price conscious,” she says.
NEWS: How do you cope in this online shopping world?
de MARCO: Ours is a very touchy-feely shop. People still want to have the experience. Some customers might see it online, and they come in and ask me if I can get it. They do the research. We’re very happy to get in, and my many suppliers don’t mind.
NEWS: What kinds of goods are people reluctant to buy online?
de MARCO: You’ve got to have something different, something somebody else hasn’t got. People want to have the variety. They don’t want to go into all the shops and they all have the same.
NEWS: Why are you in the northern half of the Mall?
de MARCO: This was major: I did not want to move away from here. The Mall has never been an issue.
NEWS: Aren’t the rents too high?
de MARCO: This is Alice Springs. It’s not a major city. It’s better to have people doing business than not to. Rents shouldn’t be everything. Traders have to be able to put the stock on the shelf.
NEWS: So some rents are too high, then?
de MARCO: They are too high. I mean, it’s not the city. They have got to be realistic.
NEWS: How do the landlords get away with it?
de MARCO: I’ve got properties in town and I am always very happy to have them occupied.
NEWS: You do deals?
de MARCO: Yes. None of my properties are overpriced.
NEWS: The Town Council is promoting pop-up shops.
de MARCO: They are a good idea. Of course, if there is something in the window instead of it being empty, that’s great. We need stable shops. I think the success of Novita is customers know they can trust me. I’m going to be open, 9 to 5.30 five days, 9 to 4 on Saturdays and 9 to 2 on Sunday. I wouldn’t dream of cutting back these hours. You’ve got to be here for people who are working. People come from the bush and they want to see the shops open. And it’s all about trust.
NEWS: Is there a case for shops opening in the evenings in summer?
de MARCO: Definitely.
NEWS: What about a siesta, say 2 to 4?
de MARCO: No. You’ve got tourists walking around. We need the shops on a Saturday to be open longer, people can have an afternoon tea. People won’t go out if there are no shops open.