Nelson may have called itself a city for a long time, but it is now on the cusp of actually becoming one, says one new CBD bar owner.
Logan Ursell and his partner Lisa Penketh have recently returned to Nelson after spending 16 years in the hospitality scene in Melbourne and London. Eight weeks ago, they opened Arden on Hardy St, where two former retail stores had stood.
“I think Nelson has called itself a city a very long time and it’s teetering on actually becoming one,” says Logan.
When they left he says it was near impossible to find people of a certain generation.
“But that is changing.”
He says they wanted to create an establishment which would not be out of place in Melbourne or London.
“There are good hospitality venues already here but there is room to move the market forward.”
The transition of the Hardy St store could be considered a microcosm of what is happening in Nelson as it goes through an identity crisis about the CBD’s future. Many retail stores are struggling, however hospitality venues continue to pop up.
According to Nelson City Council data, locals spent $22.11 million on food and beverage this year – a 5.5 per cent increase from last year along with 7.87 million in specialised food and liquor – a 4.5 per cent increase. However, the spend on apparel and in department stores was down 4.7 per cent.
“We spend more on our houses and at restaurants and bars,” reads a council presentation to retailers. “We spend less at clothes shops. We are increasingly shopping online.”
At a recent forum some retailers raised concerns that Nelson continually compared itself to Richmond. Some said that the city needed to double down on what it was good at – boutique retail experiences and hospitality venues.
Council data suggests that the amount that locals spend has stayed relatively stable over the last four years. In 2015, 60 percent of people shopped in Nelson. Now 57 percent do. Nelsonians spending in Tasman has increased from 11 per cent in 2015 to 12.6 per cent in 2018.
“The role of the city centre is changing and will continue to change, and we need to figure out how best to respond to that change,” says council’s Clare Barton, who is leading the effort to revitalise the CBD.
But the hospitality scene is also changing. Long-running bar Harry’s has also been sold to another proprietor, Matt Boutery, who owns Urban Bar and Eatery.
Clare says the main outcome from the recent city centre forums was that “we can’t sit still and wait for others to get creative”.