Retailers thrilled as Freo gets buzz back
BUMPER weekends, packed cafes, filling tills and streets with tourists; Freo businesses are crossing their fingers the city has got its mojo back.
From the Cappuccino Strip through to Fishing Boat Harbour and down to South Fremantle, shop owners told the Herald that despite gloomy economic predictions, they’re having their best sales since Covid hit – some even better than before the pandemic.
Terrace Men owner Nick Capozzi said while his Market Street shop was trading consistently, his business in the Perth CBD needed a stockmarket jump to get a kickstart, while there was grimmer news from the retailers he distributes to over east.
“Unfortunately, the eastern states are not as robust as us,” Mr Capozzi said.
“We’ve not had a net downturn, but the eastern states have, so the stores I’m selling to are finding it difficult.”
Mr Capozzi said the Perth CBD’s downturn seems to have benefited Fremantle.
“We had a customer this morning that comes from Kalamunda.
“They used to go to the city to shop, but in the pandemic came down here for a holiday, stayed at the Hougoumont and found our store.
“Now he travels from Kalamunda to shop with us, and that’s continued with those customers.”
Mr Capozzi says he’s so confident in Fremantle’s future he recently purchased another building in the CBD.
He says the city was lucky to escape the 60’s wrecking balls, as when the America’s Cup defence came along and money flowed to tart up its historic stores, it created a European-style city that continued to appeal to visitors.
“It’s got that homemade feel to it, as opposed to a lot of concrete, a lot of brickwork and a lot of paving.”
Up at Arthur’s Head next to the Roundhouse, underwater photographer Glen Cowan says he’s noting more foot traffic to his gallery than before the pandemic.
That’s perhaps borne out by Fremantle council’s traffic counters, which are a few months out of date, but show that by September the city was busier than any time during Covid and the graph was heading north.
Mr Cowan says he noticed the uptick in late November/early December.
“In the lead-up to Christmas and New Years we expect people to go away, so it’s not busy traditionally, but these holidays were a bumper,” Mr Cowans said.
Since the school holidays finished there’s been a few quiet days again, but he’s happy that there’s still a steady stream of tourists through town.
“We’re getting a lot of people from Sydney and Melbourne and overseas.
“People from Europe and the UK are saying ‘we are back after three or four years and were hoping you were going to be here’.”
Fremantle mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge thinks “absolutely” the city’s got its mojo back.
“I come in every day it’s always interesting to see what is happening here.”
Ms Fitzhardinge said the council’s Splash Freo event for the school holiday had more than 7000 people registers.
“It’s been mental outside my window with a water slide and the tantrums.”
The mayor said hotels around the city were reporting that they were filling; when the Falls Festival came to town, a room was hard to get anywhere.
She said Fishing Boat Harbour traders told her they were also trading stronger than before Covid, though empty shops around town were still a nagging issue.
“What I’ve been told is that there’s a lag in terms of attracting people before the major retail chains will commit – they need consistent foot traffic over a period.”
She wants to discuss options in the upcoming review of the city’s community strategic plan to find incentives that encourage landlords to get tenants.
Part of the recovery is being attributed to the turn-around at Victoria Quay, where Gage Roads had long queues during the holidays and parking inspectors pulled in a mint as visitors tried to squeeze their cars into any nook or cranny.
Fremantle Ports PR advisor Libby Collett said December and January were “exceptionally busy” but said managing the crowds was challenging.
“Rottnest Island has been a popular post-Christmas destination, Gage Roads and the Maritime Museum are big drawcards and people are keen to get out post-Covid and enjoy summer,” Ms Collett said.
“In recent weeks we’ve added temporary signage, worked with the ferry operators and other local businesses on Victoria Quay, and provided additional overflow parking in the Tafe carpark while students are on leave.
“We also, for a short time, brought in traffic management assistance though that has now been discontinued.”
Ms Collett urged people thinking of a harbourside brew to consider catching public transport or getting dropped off.
“Transport in and out of Victoria Quay, and connecting the precinct with the city, are longer-term planning goals and we’re working with the Future of Fremantle Committee, Public Transport Authority, City of Fremantle and others on that.
“In the meantime, we appreciate everyone’s patience as we work hard to manage our growing pains.”
But dark side remains
FREMANTLE’S mayor has written to WA police commissioner Col Blanch urging him to extend funding for extra patrols so the city can build on its budding economic recovery.
While business owners have told the Herald they feel there’s a new buzz around town, many are worried that anti-social behaviour, often fuelled by alcohol and meth, will drag the city backwards.
Last week a business woman was so frightened by a group of people who’ve taken to hanging out on a grassed area outside her business for days on end, often screaming and yelling, that she had to call for police assistance just to get to her car to go home.
“It was intimidating and frightening,” she said.
Her partner was working late on Saturday night and said he came across a “massive brawl” underneath the old traffic bridge on the way home.
“There must have been around 20 to 30 guys.”
Earlier that day, ABC journalist David Weber said he had to intervene to prevent a busker being bashed in front of his children in the High Street Mall.
“He was very aggressive, invading the man’s personal space and pointing in his face, as the two girls looked to the ground,” Mr Weber said, describing the assailant as “muscular”.
“It seemed to me that this wasn’t going to be a fair fight and we were seconds away from tragedy.
Although the man was later given a move-on notice and the busking family continued playing (with a more attentive audience), Mr Weber said there were a lot of people who sat doing nothing during the confrontation.
He fears it’s because that sort of behaviour is so common in Fremantle, it’s become an accepted part of the city.
Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge doesn’t believe it should be and says she wants to see Operation Hotshield extented past its March funding cut-off.
“It’s seen increased patrols, and early morning foot patrols doing Walyalup Koort and Cantonment Street and police engaging with businesses,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
“I’ve written saying it would be fantastic if it could continue.”
The incident comes as WA Police statistics show a disturbing spike in violence across the metropolitan area.
In the 2013/14 financial year, assaults on non-family members accounted for 10,948 offences, but in 2021/22 that had risen to 14,202.
At the same time, home burglaries fell from 25,840 to just 15,552.