More vacant shops as Blenheim’s CBD changes shape

8:59 pm on 24 February 2024
Empty shops on Blenheim’s Market St. SUPPLIED: STUFF - SINGLE USE ONLY

Empty shops on Blenheim's Market St. Photo: Supplied / Stuff

Central Blenheim has become a place to socialise rather than shop, forcing retailers to close their doors.

There are eight fewer retail businesses in the CBD, compared to 2020, a council survey of the town's health has shown.

Summer student Freya Thompson, who helped with the survey, said the drop in retail shops was the most noticeable change, and likely reflected the impact of online shopping and e-commerce.

But all other business types were doing well comparatively, she said.


Of those visiting the CBD, 64 percent went for cafes and restaurants.

There were also more vacant spaces, up from 5.7 percent in 2022 to 8 percent in 2024.

"Queen St saw some massive improvements, to do with increased occupancy rates along this area," Thompson said.

"And the new library was an area that we also saw improvements as well."

The Marlborough District Council surveys both Blenheim and Picton's CBD every two years.

People surveyed said the less attractive areas of Blenheim's CBD were vacancies, footpaths, upkeep of toilets and faded blue lampposts.

Watery Mouth Cafe head barista Matthew Wright said often their customers were in the CBD purely for food and drink.

Watery Mouth head barista Matthew Wright, left, with co-owners Hadmana and Ganga Jat say a number of their customers aren’t in town for retail shopping. SUPPLIED: MAIA HART/LDR - SINGLE USE ONLY

Watery Mouth head barista Matthew Wright (left) with co-owners Hadmana and Ganga Jat say a number of their customers aren't in town for retail shopping. Photo: Maia Hart / LDR

Wright had worked in the CBD for 15 years and said he had noticed the trend shift over time.

"We have a few shoppers ... but it's mostly people coming in for food and coffee," Wright said.

Deputy mayor David Croad said it was important the council clearly understood its role within the CBD, given it had lots of different stakeholders.

"There are some key out-takes in here, I believe, that sit clearly with us," Croad said at the meeting.

"Faded lampposts, street cleaning, and desirability of toilets. We have got to focus on the things that are in our control."

Wairau-Awatere ward councillor Gerald Hope said concern was raised about the changing CBD 20 years ago.

"The evolution of Westwood [Business Park] has come true. That was predicted.

"I always remember vividly one of the specialist consultants in this area that said it is inevitable that this large format retail will arrive. You might stall it, but you won't stop it."

27102022 NEWS PHOTO MARLBOROUGH EXPRESS ANTHONY PHELPS / STUFF New Marlborough Mayor Nadine Taylor has appointed Blenheim Councillor David Croad as her Deputy Mayor. Also pictured is Marlborough District Council chief executive Mark Wheeler, and councillor Allanah Burgess for the Maori ward.

Deputy mayor David Croad said the council needed to focus on what its role is within the CBD. Photo: Anthony Phelps / Stuff

But Hope said the council, and previous councils, should be proud.

"The investment in the CBD has actually strengthened its potential. So all of the community facilities have made it a much more viable, exciting, place to actually come to."

However, Hope said there were risks.

"If you just wander the streets in Nelson and look at the challenges that they have, compared to our quite compact CBD ... I think that we are in a strong position."

Council has made investments to ensure the CBD has a heart and a soul, Hope said.

"If you come to town now, you have all the social interactions you need, you've got all the eateries, but you've also got some prime retailers, like Thomas' ... Farmers.

"The message is we've got to support them. They are the life."

Westwood Business Park opened with Bunnings in 2012 and Pak'nSave in 2013. Kmart opened in 2019, and Chemist Warehouse in 2021. Harvey Norman was expected to shift there from its central Blenheim site in mid-2024.

Westwood also had plans to construct a "neighbourhood shopping" complex beside the Middle Renwick Rd roundabout, which was granted consent in 2022.

That consent was altered in December to only single-storey buildings instead of some being two-storey, and changes to the layout which had spaces for retail and a cafe.

CBD by the numbers


Total spend: $296.8m - 80 percent, Marlborough based, 4 percent international

Groceries and liquor spend: 29 percent, department stores and leisure spend: 27 percent


Total spend: $94.3m, up $15m

Vacancies: 7 percent

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.