Mary Street, Gympie, where property values and shopper numbers have declined since Gympie’s largest shopping mall, Central Shopping Centre, opened 12 years ago.
Mary Street, Gympie, where property values and shopper numbers have declined since Gympie’s largest shopping mall, Central Shopping Centre, opened 12 years ago.

STRUGGLE STREET: Gympie’s desperate shop owners speak out

FOR more than 150 years Mary St has been Gympie's main street and thoroughfare for commerce and business.

But for at least one local resident, the experience of owning commercial property in Mary Street is no longer stellar.

"(For) anyone in Mary St who has a property it's a struggle," Judy Ernst said.

"They're probably wishing to hell they'd never gone there.

"That's certainly the way I feel."

Ms Ernst is the former owner of Lady Bird Lingerie, a Mary Street staple for more than two decades before closing its doors in 2017.

Mary Street property owner Judy Ernst says the once premier main street has been wiped out since the opening of Gympie Central Shopping Centre in 2008.
Mary Street property owner Judy Ernst says the once premier main street has been wiped out since the opening of Gympie Central Shopping Centre in 2008.

The two shops she owns in Mary Street have both been on the market for more than three years.

She has owned them since 2007, but efforts to get a return on her investment have only driven home the reality - to the point where Ms Ernst has slashed the asking price.

"When I bought (the shops) … it was the premier end of the street," she said.

"At present I have a part-time tenant because if I don't accept a part-time tenant, I have no tenant."

Judy Ernst and Barry Cook outside the two shops they own in Mary Street.
Judy Ernst and Barry Cook outside the two shops they own in Mary Street.

And a part-time tenant was not enough to cover the overheads, she said.

"I'm not even getting enough rent through the year … I could probably scratch up my rates but I can't cover the insurance plus rates."

A big part of this shift was the opening of the Gympie Central (then Centro) Shopping Centre in 2008.

It was not the only problem plaguing a street which has vexed efforts to revitalise it over the years - efforts which have sometimes included laying blame at shop owner's feet for high rents.

Judy Ernst says traffic problems, of which the Five Ways roundabout is a significant contributor, are one of several problems to plague Mary St.
Judy Ernst says traffic problems, of which the Five Ways roundabout is a significant contributor, are one of several problems to plague Mary St.

Ms Ernst said owners themselves were faced with a litany of problems like parking concerns.

"We've experienced people who would come into the shop and say 'I've only got two hours, I can't wait; I'm going to get a ticket' and leave," Ms Ernst's husband Barry Cook said.

Ms Ernst said in some cases it was an attitude problem, but not always.

"(Some) don't want to walk any further than across the road; they want to park right in front of the shop they're going to," she said.

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"On the other hand people have gotten tickets because they've gone and had lunch somewhere.

"They get back and here's the man writing out the ticket.

"When you've got a street that's struggling the last thing you need is (to be) chasing customers out."

Ms Ernst says the long-planned transit centre at Jaycee Way should be heavily focused on serving RV travellers and include a town information centre.
Ms Ernst says the long-planned transit centre at Jaycee Way should be heavily focused on serving RV travellers and include a town information centre.

Mr Cook said this contrasted with other regional towns where the parking limit was four hours and metres were non-existent.

Traffic and transport also wreaked havoc.

"The fact is that everybody … has to go around that stupid little roundabout, that just blocks everything up," Ms Ernst said.

Mary St's one-way traffic was necessary, she said, but she questioned why other drivers coming out of places like Young St could not be diverted away from the Fiveways.

There was also a need for better connectivity in the form of a "next-to-free" bus service to ferry people between Mary St and the city's other retail hubs.

Mr Cook said the ball had also been dropped on RV tourism.

Finding a way to revitalise Mary St has proven a vexing process.
Finding a way to revitalise Mary St has proven a vexing process.

"We don't accommodate them, and we don't capitalise on our history," he said,

This was compounded by the lack of an in-town information centre.

Ms Ernst said such a centre and RV parking should be rolled into one at the block the council had earmarked for Gympie's long-awaited transit centre.

At present, she said there were only a handful of spaces available near the skate bowl.

"And if someone comes along with a 4WD and a trailer they park there too," she said.

"And rightfully so; they've got to have somewhere to park too."

Ms Ernst said another issue was an all-too-familiar one: rates.

"I have two shops side-by-side. One of those shops doesn't have water, it doesn't have septic and yet I have to pay rates on both.

"I have one toilet and one tap and I pay double for both."

Upper Mary Street was recently given an expensive makeover and met with plenty of protest from business owners whose trade was impacted by disruption caused by the work.
Upper Mary Street was recently given an expensive makeover and met with plenty of protest from business owners whose trade was impacted by disruption caused by the work.