Wagga business owners say the city must bring about a serious review of commercial rental prices to help locally owned businesses survive.
Few people have had more businesses experience in Wagga than Robert Baliva, who owns several local restaurants, including Thaigga and Bay 85.
Mr Baliva said Baylis Street rental prices are quickly becoming unattainable for new business owners.
“The landlords need to realise that the shops here are not doing as well as they used to, and, if they keep increasing rents, it’s just going to drive more businesses away,” Mr Baliva said.
“The community also needs to find locally owned businesses and support them, because those are the ones who need it.”
Instead, Mr Baliva is now looking to Wagga’s up-and-coming outer suburbs to house his next ventures.
“If someone’s looking to open a shop, I'd say look at where you're renting – don't see Baylis and think ‘it's going to be busy because it’s the main street’, because that's not the case at all,” he said.
“Suburbs like Kooringal, Glenfield, Estella, and Boorooma, if they end up getting shopping centres there – and I don’t understand why there’s even a debate about that – we’d definitely put a shop out there.”
Austin Gregor, who owns Better Mobility, said he had seen many businesses looking to move to Wagga be turned off by the city’s unreasonable rental market. High rents are not only making it difficult for local businesses to find their feet; they are also preventing out-of-town businesses from setting up camp in the city.
“We have looked at working in partnership with other businesses in Sydney and Melbourne to bring their business here,” he said.
“They see it’s great location, there's nobody else doing the same work here, and then they look at the rent and they can’t justify the cost.”
Mr Gregor said, if no action is taken, Wagga will continue to miss out on the benefits of having new businesses operating in the city.
“Here’s a situation where, freight-wise, you couldn't ask for a better spot – you’re at the joint of the Sturt Highway and the Hume Highway, you’re smack-bang in the middle of Sydney and Melbourne, and you’re two hours from Canberra – it’s the best possible spot,” he said.
“It's something we need to look at as a community approach and say ‘how can we fix this’ and ‘what can we do to make it easier’?”