Tourists boycott new 'corporate' Byron

QUEENSLAND tourist Natasha Daniels is so worried for the future of Byron Bay she is boycotting certain shops.

“I refuse to go into the chain stores while I am here. I appreciate Byron having its own culture, it is so refreshing,” she said.

Ms Daniels, from Airlie Beach, said her tourist town lost its battle to keep out chain stores and now has McDonald's on the main street - a direction in which she fears Byron Bay is headed.

She is not the only one lamenting the loss of small local businesses, many of which have been forced out by high rents and replaced by a tide of national franchises. The latest franchise to start up in Byron Bay is the national fashion chain, Witchery, located in what used to be one of Byron Bay's longest-running local shops, Wallace's Menswear on Jonson Street.

Owner Barry Wallace did not return The Northern Star's calls, however when another long-time Jonson Street business, Byron Bay Dry Cleaners, closed shop in September the owner, Rhonda Noonan, cited high rents as a prime reason.

The Northern Star did speak to some retailers in the town who were happy with their rents, but they said they were too scared to admit that publicly lest their landlords decided to up the rent on them.

Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham said it was sad to see the number of 'corporate logos' in Byron's CBD where there used to be unique, locally-owned shops.

“Visitors to Byron spend up on the things they can't find any- where else. But, if it is just another chain store, the enticement factor is not there,” she said. “It erodes the nature of Byron Bay, you start losing the character.” Cr Barham said Byron Shire Council was powerless to stop the chain stores moving in.

“Council can only limit the type of development that occurs, not the type of businesses that move in. We can say 'no' to a drive-through food takeaway like McDonald's, but not to a chain store opening in an existing shop.”

Byron United surveyed local businesses in 2007 and discovered some retailers were being charged as much as $5000 a week for a shopfront in the CBD.

However, president Ed Ahern said the local business community was unable to lower rents themselves.

The national franchises, Mr Ahern said, were able to subsidise the higher rents, pushing more local businesses out of the town.

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