Two years of Covid and rising rents proved too much for business operators Bob and Bridgit Conway who will farewell their Gympie Terrace newsagency on 30 June, warning there will be many more as local business owners fall victim to a tightening financial squeeze.
“We’re a really good example of where things are at the moment,” Bob said.
The couple have run Newsextra Noosaville for the past 13 years in the premises that has been a newsagency since 1985. Their departure ends an 81-year tradition of newsagencies on Gympie Terrace since the first one opened in 1939.
The business was a sea change dream for the Conways that had become a reality until the pandemic changed the game.
“I wanted to have the coastal lifestyle,” Bob said.
“We came from Central Queensland. I’d been in the mining and construction industries. We love it here.
“It was like this garden of Eden.
“We’ve come through two years of Covid. Anybody in retail will tell you it’s been a nightmare. But they don’t like telling you that. They don’t want to advertise they’re struggling.
“We’re country people. We’ll tell you straight. We’ve taken the punches. We’ve had good support from the community.
“Noosa is set up to be busy. When we’re not busy, times get tough. Locals give you support but it’s not enough.”
Bob said for two years when tourist numbers dropped during Covid, the couple shouldered the losses and waited for it to pass, but as southerners moved to Noosa and real estate prices soared, rents also soared.
“Landlords in Noosa do not take backward steps,” Bob said.
“They want retailers to take all the pain,” he said.
“We can’t afford to be here.
“It hurts. We paid good money for this investment. We got no return on the investment. It’s a sign of the times.
“Our first preference is to stay. We’re not greedy people. If we could keep our nose above the water we’d stay. We don’t drive Lamborghinis. We just want a normal life. You can’t do that in Noosa. Property values have gone through the roof. (Landlords) want the value returns.”
Bob said newsagencies were not taking any more of a hit than other businesses.
“I’ve seen 50 retailers close their doors. As a newsagent, I’ve outlasted other businesses. It’s everyone trying to rely on business. There’ll be a lot of empty shops until we see a change,” he said.
Having been a landlord of residential properties he always valued a good tenant and gave them a reasonable deal because he wanted them to be there.
“It’s a reasonable thing to do. It makes good business sense to give tenants a good deal.
“Some landlords in Noosa are so wealthy they don’t care if a property sits empty for six months. What that comes down to is they have no concern for the tenant if he goes bankrupt. The rent is always set at the highest rate in Noosa.”
Paying $100,000-$120,000 a year means selling a lot of newspapers and lotto tickets. But no newsagent makes its money from newspapers, according to Bob.
“Newspapers give you foot traffic. If you look at our demographic, most residents are elderly and still like to read newspapers. It brought a lot of foot traffic through the door.
“But we need our tourists. They buy magazines, gifts, drinks, touristy things”.
And Bob brought in whatever the customer demanded. He had an ATM for a while but had to offload that and has had customers asking for beer, something he would also have sold if he could have gotten a liquor license.
“I defy anyone who thinks they could have done better or worked harder,” he said.
“In reasonable times this is a good, viable business but today you just can’t do it.”
Bob and Bridgit always viewed their business as part of the community structure and see its loss as a sad reflection of the loss of community.
The newsagent has long been a gathering spot for people to discuss the news, have a chat then pick up a coffee at a nearby cafe.
“We feel part of the community. The support since people have found out we’re closing has been overwhelming. It’s helped us get through this difficult time.”
While Bob chatted to Noosa Today, one customer summed up the community feeling when she dropped by to say how sorry she was to see them leaving. “You’ve always been wonderful,” she said to Bob.
Being close to his customers, Bob’s knows its not only business owners who are hurting.
There are many residents who have also had to leave Noosa because their house rentals have become unaffordable.
“A lady from Italy was here the other day. She’s lived in Noosa for 18 years. Her rent’s gone up $120 a week and she can’t afford it. ‘We’re going to have to leave,'” she told Bob.
“We feel there’s no empathy for the old values we have.
“We feel money is more important to people than community structure. Those old values that you take a hit for the community. It’s a sad situation. It’s more about the individual… don’t go backwards to help someone else.”
Bob and Bridgit are selling all their stock at half price to try to recoup some of their losses before they leave.
Their future is uncertain but they no plans to retire.
“We’re letting the dust settle. We’ll get everything tidied up then we may see there’s something.
“One door closes, hopefully there’ll be one opening,” Bob said.
Drop into Newsextra Noosaville at 2/199 Gympie Terrace before 30 June to pick up a bargain at their half price sale, say goodbye to Bob and Bridgit and farewell to an era.