Somethings afoot in Newcastle
There’s something unusual happening in Newcastle.
The city is dealing with light rail disruption and the mess it’s causing to local businesses. This disturbance is easy to see – you only need to take a stroll along Hunter Street to feel the pain of the people it is breaking. No number of positive messages and advertising will help these businesses and building owners.
However, it’s not only your 9-5 retailers feeling the pinch either. A couple of Saturday nights ago I was enjoying a pleasant dinner at an Italian restaurant on the fringe CBD, when the staff started vacuuming at 9 pm.
The restaurant is something of a culinary institution in Newcastle, yet I failed to recognise it was deserted apart from my group of eight. As I looked around, I also noticed the kitchen was clean, the pizza ovens shut off, and the staff apparently wanted to leave. Hence the vacuuming drowning our conversation and virtually forcing us out the door.
Besides being the height of hospitality rudeness, I couldn’t believe the hoovering had started so early, and that restaurants in Newcastle were locking up at just 9 pm on a Saturday night. In any other city, a restaurant of this calibre would be accepting its second sitting at this time of night.
The quiet was deafening.
Walking onto the street, the three restaurants across the road were already in darkness, with chairs stacked. The nearby pub with its windows opening onto the street was hosting only three patrons. A band played live music inside the pub to the virtually non-existent crowd. 'Heavens,' I thought to myself, is this Newcastle, our town we like to think of as a city?
Disturbed at what I was seeing (or not seeing to be more accurate), I decided to take a drive to Beaumont Street, Hamilton hoping for a more welcoming result. Hamilton has tended to benefit from the Hunter Street Light Rail upheaval with patrons choosing to socialise closer to home rather than venture into town. Well, this was my observation when I’d previously wandered along Beaumont Street in the early evening. Full restaurants and bars with patrons spilling onto the footpath was the norm. But at 9.30 pm on this balmy autumn evening, the restaurants of Beaumont Street were closed.
As a commercial property specialist and a business owner, I must ask myself whether the early clock-off times for the hospitality industry in Newcastle reflect our city’s demographics – maybe our aging population prefers not to venture out after 9 pm? Could it be we don’t have the density of people to support a second sitting nightlife? I’m not sure what the answer is, however the Italian restaurant and its vacuum cleaner caused something of a revelation. Maybe, Newcastle still has some way to go in its transition from big country town to regional city status.
That said, those who invest in the transition of Newcastle and its commercial property market will be sure to see some decent wealth creation long term, as our infrastructure improves, population grows and restaurants and bars pump on longer into the night.