Hip suburb’s ‘apocalypse’ demise
Craft beers were spilling left, right and centre when the news of another local business closure hit one of Sydney's trendiest suburbs last week.
A recirculated message from the owner confirmed Newtown's 2042 Cafe, on the suburb's bustling and bohemian artery, King St, had closed.
"We decided it was our best option at this point, we want to thank everyone for the support we had over the years and wish you all the best," the cafe's owner wrote in a message posted on Newtown community Facebook groups.
It triggered a wave of anger from locals who pointed to a number of other businesses which have been forced out of the suburb in recent months - such as the Moo Gourmet Burgers restaurant and the impending closure of vegan eatery Bliss & Chips.
"Come in and have one more dose of your favourites before we close the doors on our little baby!!!" the popular chip shop's owners wrote on its Facebook page on Friday. "Our lease expires this month and our last day will be 25th November."
Blaming "greedy landlords" and "increasing rates" Newtowners warned jokingly of a "Newtown apocalypse" engulfing the popular inner-west suburb - conjuring images of tumbleweed blowing down King St among the boarded-up vegan restaurants.
"Anyone know of any restaurants, shops and services in King Street that aren't in the process of closing down?" asked one concerned local looking for recommendations on a community Facebook group in response to the closures.
The fear and speculation around Newtown's demise was so bad that local business leaders at the Newtown Precinct Business Association (NPBA) decided to do some research into the matter.
They found the "apocalypse" rumours were unfounded, as there were only 46 shopfronts that were vacant or were being advertised for lease from the 738 shopfronts located on King St and Enmore and Erskineville roads.
By comparison, the same count taken in January last year found 45 vacant or "advertised for lease" shopfronts in the same area.
So, although 15 businesses had closed in that period, 16 more had opened in their place.
According to researchers this means the suburb is showing a "healthy" vacancy rate of 6.23 per cent.
"What this data shows is that there is relatively the same amount of vacant or closing businesses as there was almost two years ago and that there has not been a dramatic increase in closures across our precinct," NPBA said.
However, the study also shows where these businesses have closed and opened and it shows a trend which might worry some Newtowners.
King Street's north, where there is a higher amount of pedestrian traffic, is suffering particularly badly. In January last year, there were only five vacant shops, however this increased to 21 by last week.
"What the data doesn't show is the reasons behind these closures," the report read. "The NPBA has noted that there have been several high profile or long-term businesses that have recently closed or have announced they are closing.
"This has contributed to a greater social awareness of business closures in the area. Also, having an increased number of closures on North King St, Newtown's highest pedestrian area, has contributed to an increased social awareness."
So why are businesses being forced to close in the suburb's bustling north end?
Jenny Spyridis, who has run the ever-popular popular pasta eatery The Italian Bowl with her dad Vince, mum Mary and husband Alexi since 2005, said making a name for yourself in Newtown was a tough gig.
They are still going strong, but Mrs Spyridis told news.com.au she had seen nearby businesses fold and she fired off a list of reasons why - from the "huge" cost of rent to staff being "impossible" to get.
She said "atrocious" parking on King Street was also killing businesses and if plans to make it a clearway went ahead, there would be more closures.
A toxic combination of online ratings and expensive delivery partners - such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo - was also putting the suburb's eateries under stress, according to Mrs Spyridis.
"Customers also think they are master chefs and, no matter how many times you please them, the first time you don't, they rate you badly on social media," she said,
"Delivery partners charge a huge chunk of your profit. Those who deliver themselves either have had to go with them and lose - as it's easy for a customer to jump on an app to have a choice of many restaurants rather than one."
Despite all these reasons and many more, Mrs Spyridis said one of the main factors behind the closure of so many hospitality businesses was not unique to Newtown.
"People think opening restaurants and cafes is easy," she said. "It's so hard and it affects family life like you can't imagine.
"Competition is hard. They see a successful business and open thinking they'll take their customers, but unless they are better or have a uniqueness then it's likely the customers will stay put."