A Westfield Woden retailer says the mall's operators have been lobbied to lower rents by 30-40 per cent to help struggling tenants cope with a downturn in business.
The shop owner's comments come in the wake of several significant departures from the mall, including Medibank, Cafe Gaudi and clothing retailer Man to Man.
Man to Man is one of 20 underperforming stores across Australia facing closure according to voluntary administrator Ferrier Hodgson. Its departure leaves another vacant shop in the mall, where complaints of high rent and turnover of tenants are becoming a perennial issue.
The food court owner said when he arrived trading was good, but other retailers had invited him to join their lobby group to ask Westfield for lower rents.
"We didn't want to, we were still in our honeymoon at the food court," he said. After two large food retailer closed and were boarded up, their absence left the place looking less attractive.
The large Medicare office, which generated a lot of foot traffic, has closed in the mall and relocated to Bowes Place at the rear of the shopping centre.
This follows the closure in April, 2014, of Medicare at Westfield Belconnen. Staff at the new Bowes Place office in Woden fielded complaints on Friday from members of the public who said they had a longer walk to make claims.
"When public service departments go, that is a huge blow," the food court trader, who did not want to be identified, said.
"Monday to Friday trade relies on government agencies, before there was a lunchtime rush and the place was packed, now the food court doesn't come close [to being packed].
"We have put in multiple requests for assistance, we have given financial details which show we are having significant financial losses, we are working on weekends for no wages."
The partners have permanent jobs outside their business and are using their income to keep the venture afloat. The spokesman said trading improved with the arrival of summer and in the lead up to Christmas, but was still subdued compared to 12 months ago.
He said small retailers were finding the going easier at Tuggeranong because the mall's owners had been prepared to reduce rents and keep tenants.
"They were in Woden's position two years ago, they got a new leasing guy in and he negotiated more flexible rents." New tenants were also helped with their fit-outs, he said.
One of he biggest cafes in Woden mall, Cafe Gaudi, which opened for long hours with separate indoor and outdoor dining spaces in a prime location facing Corinna Street, has closed.
Hoarding covers the counter area and advertises an upcoming Questacon show, Perception/ Deception, while a children's play area has been established in the cafe's former indoor dining section.
A chicken meat retailer near Woolworths has been closed for some time, as has the Wendy's Ice Cream shop opposite Lowes.
Twelve months ago Edelweiss Gourmet Deli announced it was to close after 40 years at the mall, because of high rents and a downturn in trade. At the time owner Dusanka Simic, owner for the past decade, said high rent was absorbing about 26 per cent of her annual turnover.
The business has since changed hands.
A spokeswoman for Westfield Woden said the company did no disclose rental negotiations and tried to maintain high occupancy. "... and unfortunately I'm not able to shed any light on when any redevelopment might start, the spokeswoman added.
" In the meantime we'll continue to work closely with retailers to achieve best outcomes," she said.
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