By Mikayla van Loon
Back in its heyday the Mooroolbark Terrace Shopping Centre was a thriving precinct, with the butcher, the baker and the furniture maker.
Now just 12 of the 24 shops have active businesses in them and the centre has been described as the missing link to the rest of Mooroolbark, particularly as the new station works begin.
As the longest standing business of 35 years, Terrace Jeweller owner Brett Clarke said seeing so many shops close makes him nervous but his business is still managing.
“I’ve had some really loyal customers that have kept coming back and their kids have come in to get engagement rings,” Mr Clarke said.
“I made the decision in 2000 to either move out or buy this shop and business was still good so I bought this shop. And that was the decision I made, that I would probably be here until I retired.”
Having started in a small kiosk in 1986, Mr Clarke then upgraded to shop seven in 1992 before moving to his current shop which he now owns and has been in for 21 years.
Lots of changes have occurred at the centre during Mr Clarke’s time there, the most significant being the loss of the IGA supermarket.
Professionals real estate agent and Mooroolbark Traders and Community Group president Geoff Earney said the loss of the supermarket had a huge impact on the centre.
“All the major draw cards got up and left and then when the supermarket closed, which was IGA, that really left a whole in it,” Mr Earney said.
Mr Earney and his father were the ones who originally sold the land to developers, who then built The Terrace Shopping Centre in 1981.
“So I’ve been involved in it ever since the inception of it and it had some really good shops in there. It had a good menswear shop, it had a shoe shop, Treasure Way, it was a thriving little centre when it got going.”
But as Chirnside Park Shopping Centre became more popular and offered a larger variety of shops, as well as heating and air conditioning, The Terrace fell behind.
“So the [shops] that were at Mooroolbark couldn’t compete with the volumes of traffic they had over at Chirnside so unfortunately they closed or moved away to Chirnside,” Mr Earney said.
Since 2016 Woolworths have made a number of proposals to buy one half of the centre’s shops and build a new supermarket store.
But with every shop being individually owned, getting everyone on board has been difficult.
“I think at the moment Woolworths has gone completely cold on it and from the information I’ve been able to get from Woolworths is that every time that they’ve gone there the price has gone up,” Mr Earney said.
Mr Earney believes greed has gotten in the way of making a good business decision for the community and said it doesn’t help that many of the shop owners don’t live in the area.
“To get the major players all onside, which I think there’s about four or five of them, to get them all going in the one direction and agreeing with that is the stumbling block they’ve got at the moment.”
Another roadblock has come from the Coles freefold owner across the road at The Village who owns a couple of shops in The Terrace and hasn’t wanted the competition by allowing Woolworths to open a store.
“What disappoints me most of all, that here we have, for want of a better word, a white elephant, the town is crying out for another supermarket there’s no doubt about it,” Mr Earney said.
“It’s got a whole lot of parking there and it is just looking for somebody to come along, whether it be Woolworths or somebody else.”
Mr Earney said The Terrace Shopping Centre has great potential and if redeveloped, it could finish off the town of Mooroolbark.
“All I see for the community of Mooroolbark is what we are lacking. Here we are, we’re going to have a brand new state of the art railway station, we’ve got a car park that will take 900 cars in there everyday and here we are we’ve got this white elephant sitting there in the middle of the town, with nothing on the table now to progress that, to be able to get it developed and finish off the town.”
Mr Clarke agreed and said the centre could be a great asset to Mooroolbark, if only it was more appealing to people.
“It wouldn’t take much to tidy up the front but unfortunately in our body corporate fees we don’t have the money to spend on the front because we do have a lot of maintenance with the roof and other things to do here and it costs us money to clean the graffiti off.”
Vandalism and graffiti has been a major concern over the years, particularly to the public toilets inside the centre.
“Now we have to lock those toilets, we have to put codes on those toilets to keep vandals and drug addicts out. We had one year where our bills for toilet repair alone were $26,000,” Mr Clarke said.
With funds already tight because of the lack of open shops, Mr Clarke said the centre can no longer run promotions like they used to.
“The potential for it to hold events has been great over the years. We had a food festival here a few years ago, even with the empty shops but it looked fantastic because we had cooking classes and food stalls. The [centre] has been great like that for holding events.”
“In its heyday we used to have football clinics here, so we had Richmond footballers come down, we had Brendan Gale and Michael Gale come down and they’d have the handball board and teach kids how to handball. Because we’ve got the open centre, it was always good for that sort of stuff.”