The retail landscape of Alexandra is changing. For years, stories of empty buildings and streets, and low business confidence had been the norm but the tide is changing with a resurgence of businesses in the town centre. The News reporters Tracie Barrett and Shannon Thomson report.

New businesses are breathing fresh life into the Alexandra CBD.

Less than 12 months ago there had been more than 18 empty shops and buildings in the town’s centre, but that has changed with new retail businesses, cafes and even a pet store setting up shop.

The new-found confidence flies in the face of Covid-19-related business jitters.

National supermarket chain Countdown cleared ground for their 3000sq m supermarket on Centennial Ave in July, with the build scheduled to be completed in 2022.

The former Mitre 10 hardware store building on Centennial Ave now housed a mini-market after a period sitting empty and vacant spaces in Tarbert St are filling up.

Shirlene Steel opened Pet Pit Stop in Centrepoint Mall early this month to help fund Animal Rehab Central, which she started a year ago to assist and rehome neglected animals.

She said representatives of companies the charity worked with had insisted Alexandra needed a pet shop and the rapid increase in new people in the area contributed to her choice of venue.

“It’s just nice to see all these empty shops bringing something into them,” Ms Steel said.

“If they stay empty, they stay dead.”

Man with a plan . . . Alexandra businessman Rory McLellan believes his plans will reinvigorate the town’s CBD. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON

Local businessman Rory McLellan has with his wife and business partner, Karen, purchased 19-21 Tarbert St, three empty buildings that once housed the Hotel Alexandra and the Town and Country Club, and latterly Shooters.

“We’ve had to put our money where our mouths are, and are trying to really rejuvenate the area with the rebuild,” he said of a plan the couple hope will bring more youth back to the central business district, and encourage more high-quality shops to open in the town.

Mr McLellan is also chairman of the Alexandra Riverside Park Trust, which has spent 10 years working to fund and develop Riverside Park – a waterside project seeking to connect the CBD to the Clutha River.

The Central Otago District Council recently allocated $650,000 for first-stage development of the project.

Mr McLellan said he had a lot of confidence in the Alexandra CBD.

“Build it, and a lot more will come,” he said.

Open for business . . . The Giant Departmental Store Alexandra manager Meet Oza (left) and co-owner Anand Patel inside the pair’s Alexandra store. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON

Further along on Centennial Ave the former Postie Plus clothing store no longer sits vacant, with the arrival of The Giant Departmental Store.

The 550sq m retail space had sat empty since the national clothing chain departed from Alexandra in early 2019 after a disagreement about the lease.

The Giant Departmental Store co-owners Anand Patel and Chetan Kakadiya, who also have stores in Greymouth and Mosgiel, thought the space — and Alexandra — were too good to pass up.

“We just felt there was a space over here in this market,” Mr Patel said.

“We did explore the Mosgiel market and we knew there was a bit of an opportunity here in Alex.”

The store houses more than 150 bays of product, ranging from children’s toys, kitchen, gardening, arts and crafts, yarn, office supplies, electronics, puzzles and much else.

Mr Patel said the store was designed to give people a wider range of product choice for all budgets.

“There’s a lot of things you won’t find in Alex here,” he said.

Vincent Community Board Chairman Martin McPherson, said he welcomed the new businesses opening in Alexandra, as it was “always great to see empty vessels filling up”.

“There’s nothing more disheartening for a town’s central business district than a plethora of empty shops,” he said.