The sign outside Benge and Co on Main Rd Stoke, which shut on Saturday. Photo: Sara Hollyman.

Stoke shop exodus ‘shocks’ residents

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Long-time Stoke residents say they are shocked to see that yet another key retailer in the suburb has closed despite the area being identified as the fastest growing in Nelson.

Benge and Co Green Grocers shut the doors on their Main Rd, Stoke, store on Saturday, leaving some residents scratching their heads.

A sign posted on the front of the store on Monday tells residents that they have merged with the Richmond store.

“Merging the two locations allows us to focus our efforts on growth and opportunities yet keep pushing us to be the very best green grocers we can be.

“We have loved having our store in the hub of Stoke and getting to know our regular customers.”

The McCauley family are long-time residents in the area and Colleen McCauley says she was “shocked” to hear the store was closing on Saturday.

“I nearly fell over when they told me they were closing, it’s really sad and it was just such a shock really.

“They told me I could come out to the Richmond store, but the shops are just so handy for me here, it’s not so easy for me to get out there.”

In 2014, the Nelson City Council ran a ‘Spotlight on Stoke’ initiative which identified key points from community feedback, one of which was that it needed an environment that encouraged a wider range of shops and more exciting retailers.

However, five years on the main street has seen the loss of key tenants such as Work and Income, Westpac, and most recently Kiwibank, which announced it would close last year but would stay in the suburb until NZPost can find a new business partner.

However, the Kiwibank announcement saw a huge backlash from the community, including a petition, which was signed by 2000 people.

Over the next 30 years Stoke is also projected to home three-quarters of Nelson’s population growth and half its new housing.

The recently opened Greenmeadows Centre was testament to the council’s vision for the suburb.

However, another McCauley family member says retailers have never seemed to stay around long in that block of shops and they put it down to Nelson and Richmond being close by.

“It’s because you’ve got Richmond and Nelson so close, so you’ve got everything right there, I mean look at the mall that they built that was supposed to be a hub, that’s not a retail hub, it’s filled with lawyers and offices.

“There’s hardly any shops left, it’s a real shame.”

Kim Hall, who owns Squire’s Coffee says the closures are “concerning”.

“Considering they put all the elderly out here and all those resources, then just to take them away is really disappointing.”

She says many of her customers have been left without key services, forcing them out to Richmond.

“Stoke used to be a thriving little area … once upon a time you didn’t have to go into town.”

Kim says the Squire’s team are focused on what they do to make sure they are delivering the best service they can.