ONCE the spiritual hub of Fremantle’s alternative community, Ark of Joan is moving out of the port city after 29 years.
“It’s the end of one cycle and the beginning of another,” says owner of 11 years, Roni, noting the store’s time in the South Fremantle Piazza was the equivalent of one orbit of Saturn around the sun. “It’s the Saturn return.”
The shop sells crystals, books and “lots of unique and unusual things for the metaphysical seeker” and hosts workshops on all manner of healing modalities and astrology.
Roni says during its heyday it would be packed on Sundays with Reiki practitioners and customers coming through who might recall buying one of its flamboyant medieval dresses for their wedding 20 years ago.
“So many people would come in just to visit Skybear,” she says of Freo’s most pampered pup, who gets regular reiki and chiropractic treatments.
But Freo’s downturn has taken its toll, and Roni says parking, vandalism, online trading and antisocial behaviour have prompted her to make the difficult decision to relocate to Spearwood.
“We would love to see all our loyal customers from over the years join us at the Sacred Grove Spiritual Events Centre,” she says with optimism.
Ark of Joan was opened by Janey and Michael Marsh in 1989, when Fremantle had cemented its reputation as Perth’s bohemian capital courtesy of the Orange People movement.
But it’s a far different landscape today, and the piazza is an eery site with shop windows which once advertised colourful businesses such as Camelot and Jalfreezi now crying desperately “for lease”.
Just across the piazza Kings of Sun owner Steve says homelessness and antisocial behaviour are ruining Freo’s trading scene and he is “sick and tired of it”.
“Last Sunday, a women was standing in the fountain abusing everyone.”
He says it’s a common occurrence.
“By the time the police or security arrive, the damage is already done.
“It deters families and people start going elsewhere.
“Brad is meant to be making sure that Freo is safe.”
Steve says the “niche, quirky, alternative shops are dying off,” but notes his trade in holistic health services is still going well and he hopes to expand.
Roni’s daughter Jessica says she’s worked in many of the piazza’s shops since she was 13.
“I’ve grown up in the shop and watched it go quiet,” she says sadly. “Walk-through traffic is non-existent.”
There have been rumours South Terrace Piazza’s owners are considering a major revamp for the site, but they declined to comment.
John Alberti manages 49 offices and shops in neighbouring Fremantle Malls and says despite his empties, he’s a positive person confident things will change.
“We need more pedestrian traffic. We need to get these shops filled,” he says.
Fremantle Chamber of Commerce CEO Olwyn Williams says Fremantle has to be “much braver” if it’s going to turn around its economic fortunes and take on Perth’s expanding shopping malls.
“Right now our CBD focus is on how Fremantle communicates (sells) itself as a destination for the Perth market, and the flow-on out to WA and interstate markets,” says Ms Williams. “Even though shopping malls are showing a declining trend in the US, they are still growing here, and they are the main competition for our retail and hospitality offerings.
“Retail is challenging but will always be with us in some form so it cannot be dismissed just because something like Amazon burps.
“Our commercial streetscape is a mix of independently operated businesses and chains. We need to champion the diversity.”
by ALICE ANGELONI