The changing face of Australian retail
When the first modern shopping centre in Australia opened its doors in 1957, a local paper described it as “an island of retailing in a lake of car parking.” In the 63 years that have passed since that day, the role and design of our shopping centres has evolved alongside the shifts in the way that we live, work, and play.
Whilst always social in nature, the increasing density of our cities and continued complications of maintaining a work/life balance in the digital age demand that our retail centres serve a greater purpose than merely consumption and congregation. Two new Sydney precincts by Frasers Property Australia are setting the example for how modern retail environments should seek to serve their users.
Nestled on the edge of the expansive Western Sydney Parklands lies Eastern Creek Quarter (ECQ). Newly opened in June 2020, the innovative retail precinct was designed to serve as a community hub for a diverse local area with ECQ Social, its highly-anticipated ‘revolving dining precinct’ as the centrepiece.
Jo Russell, General Manager of Retail Development for Frasers Property says that the offering was designed to give opportunities to local businesses and create a sense of community ownership in the precinct.
“We’ve invested in five tenancies at ECQ which run on short term licenses, each of which we have had designed and equipped with a kitchen and cool room,” explains Jo. “What this does is provide a very low barrier to entry for a new food catering tenant to establish and operate a business. The tenancy period is short, all the basic kitchen equipment is provided and the tenant rents any other specific items required. All they need is a concept and they can come and grow a business with very little capital outlay.”
Since the centre’s opening earlier this year, the team have already seen great success for small businesses taking advantage of these tenancies. “We have one tenant who was previously just cooking in her kitchen,” says Jo, “and this has given her an opportunity to start her own business. Having that local element was really important to us and makes the whole centre feel very authentic to the area and community.”
In addition to its extensive and diverse dining offering, ECQ also offers visitors a range of retail, health and wellbeing operators, beauty and personal services, alfresco dining options, as well as a large outdoor deck with kids play area and large format outdoor screen.
“Experiences are becoming more and more talked about in the retail industry. We wanted to make sure that we were creating a space that people would want to come and spend time in outside of the retail transaction. It’s why the food offering was so important to us and why we as the landlord invested so heavily in those food tenancies for the community,” says Jo.
A short drive south at Ed.Square, a new Town Centre is bringing long-awaited amenity and opportunity to the community of Edmondson Park. The Town Centre sits at the heart of a newly created residential community by Frasers Property, soon to be home to more than 1,800 excited home owners and tenants.
“The opportunity at Ed.Square was unique because we essentially started with a blank canvas,” recalls Jo. “There was very little existing in the immediate local area in terms of retail, and we were also situating this retail space within a brand-new community, so we needed the offering to work quite hard to activate the community.”
Ed.Square’s design is largely centred around tapping into what Jo calls the “evening economy”. A vibrant Eat Street offering a range of diverse dining options and alfresco spaces is complemented by Event Cinemas, giving locals a long-awaited social destination.
First home buyers Chloe and Anthony had ruled out the south west at the start of their property search due to a lack of amenity, but that all changed when they found Ed.Square.
“Walkability was one of the big things that we were looking for and purchasing in south west Sydney previously, that simply wasn’t an option,” says Anthony. “If you wanted a different kind of cuisine you’d say ‘okay, we’re travelling 15 minutes to get there’. That’s why the inner west was appealing to us at the start but when we saw Ed.Square, it was the all-in-one for us.”
The grand openings of both centres were unfortunately delayed to differing degrees due to the impacts of COVID-19 as Woolworths ECQ was transformed into a ‘dark’ store to assist in meeting supply at surrounding stores and the team at Ed.Square stepped back to give retailers their best chance of survival in a difficult climate.
Now as we look to the future, Jo says considerable thought is being given to the lasting impacts that COVID-19 is likely to have on the design of our retail spaces.
“We’re going to see changes in the way that customers interact with each other and with retailers, and we’ve got to be respectful of that,” she says. “We’re looking at things like how we can provide greater space overall and how queuing could occur within a smaller tenancy, and we’re watching really interesting examples come through from overseas that we can take learnings from.”
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