Many businesses in the Lismore CBD are indicating they are open again but the vacancy rate is still double healthy figures.
Many businesses in the Lismore CBD are indicating they are open again but the vacancy rate is still double healthy figures. Alison Paterson

Shop vacancy rate doubles in wake of March flood

BUSINESS vacancy rates in Lismore's CBD have spiked since the March 31 flood, with the rate more than double what is considered healthy.

Lismore City Council's acting manager of economic development, Tina Irish, told the Lismore Business Panel at its meeting yesterday that last month's audit revealed vacancy rates were at 17%.

Compared to the previous audit in June, Ms Irish said the change equated to three more recorded vacancies.

But she said the figure might not be accurate and citied the "ad hoc” method previously used may have created discrepancies.

"I don't necessarily believe that's the current figure. I don't think it's as bad (as the figure suggests it is) at the moment,” Ms Irish said.

The vacancy rate is measured by a physical walking audit that scans the entire CBD to record businesses where there is no sign of occupancy.

With a new process implemented, she said the next audit in February might deliver a better indication of vacancies in the city centre.

Before the flood, Ms Irish said the rate was sitting at a healthier 8%.

One of the main agencies working to revive the city's businesses community post-flood was the council's flood recovery unit.

Ms Irish said staff had reached out to more than 450 businesses throughout the CBD, and North and South Lismore to offer support for operators to restart trading.

Of that number, she said 355 businesses had received a share of the $4.9 million in grants since August, but predicted the figure could be higher now.

Panel member and South Lismore business owner Hayley Brown, of Horn's Gas Service, expressed her gratitude for council's on-the-ground support and outreach with grants.

Helping businesses get back on their feet has also been complimented with nurturing the wellbeing of businesses owners through the chaplaincy program.

Drew Harrison from Lismore Combined Churches, which teamed up with the council to run the program, said about 300 businesses had been visited since the flood.

Based on his conversations with operators, Mr Harrison said the program had made a "real difference” within the business precinct by offering in-person support to talk about the challenges they face.

The council's executive director of sustainable development, Brent McAllister, said the program filled a "big gap” in the city's flood recovery response.

He said the council's support for businesses served as a lesson learnt for the State Government, which had previously only focused on the wellbeing of residents and not business owners.

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