Edelweiss Gourmet Deli owner Dusanka Simic. ''I'd love to have someone take over,'' she said. Photo: Rohan Thompson
The Edelweiss Gourmet Deli has been selling European smallgoods to the people of Canberra ever since the Woden Plaza opened back in 1972.
The deli has a loyal base of European customers who want to buy food from their homelands, but lately owner Dusanka Simic said she was serving a growing number of Australians.
"With all the cooking shows - MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules - people come and buy things [they've] never heard of,'' Mrs Simic said. ''They say, 'We don't know what it is, but we want to buy it and we know you carry it'."
The deli, sandwiched between two big supermarkets, employs 12 people and has a healthy turnover, but unless a buyer can be found during the next week it will have to close down.
Mrs Simic and several other tenants say Westfield is charging unreasonable rents.
Since the impending closure of the store was publicised in Tuesday's Canberra Times, Mrs Simic said centre management had indicated they wished to continue negotiating a new lease agreement with rent less than what currently amounts to 20 per cent of the deli's turnover.
"I'd love to have someone take over because it's a pity to close a deli that has been here for more than 40 years," she said.
"And I think they would have a pretty good chance of having the rent reduced."
But Mrs Simic, the third owner of the deli, will call it a day whatever the outcome.
"I've reached the age where I cannot work seven days a week [any more]. It's a bit too much for me and my husband; we've been here for a long time and the deli was very successful," she said.
It could be the end of an era not only for Edelweiss Gourmet, but also for some other small retail businesses unless there is a market correction in rents.
Small business broker Frank Walmsley is trying to broker the sale of Edelweiss.
''We're going to turn into a scenario where there's Coles and Woolworths, 450 coffee shops and you buy your jeans online,'' Mr Walmsley said.
"The retail space that we have in Canberra has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, but we haven't had the population growth to offset that … There has not been a broad market adjustment to the rent," he said.
"We're working with Westfield to try to achieve an outcome, but the broader question is if we don't have some market adjustment for independent food retailers - and I don't mean cafes - they will be lost, and when they are lost, they're not coming back."
Mr Walmsley would like to see more done to help independent retailers, be it relaxation of sections of planning regulations governing where they can open, or recognition of their value in the retail mix.
"You have to acknowledge that these businesses are competing against multinational companies that have big power to negotiate massive lease arrangements across all their supermarkets, and the little guys are left to negotiate [individually].
"It's a free market and Westfield can leave the rent where it is and [Mrs Simic] will leave, but it can be very hard to get those retailers back. Once they're lost, they're gone,'' Mr Walmsley said.
In four years, there would be far fewer independent retailers; they can't compete, he said.
Westfield did not respond to a request for comment.