Leap of faith needed for CBD shops to stay open late

Tourists clearly want shops in the Cairns CBD to stay open later, but retailers are divided on the viability of meeting those expectations.

When it comes to retail trading hours in the CBD, Cairns faces a chicken or egg dilemma.

What comes first? The shoppers willing to spend, or the shops staying open later to attract them in the first place?

At the moment, the Cairns Night Markets is just about the only option for late night shopping 7 days a week in the city centre.

While locals are often critical of the products on offer at the Night Markets, the 11pm closing time is extremely popular with visitors to the region, particularly international tourists.


The verdict from tourists is clear. They want city shops to be open beyond 5pm so they can shop once they arrive back from a day out at the reef or other tours.

CQUniversity Data collected from a recent feedback survey of 300 tourists conducted by CQUniversity found shop opening hours rated the lowest of all scores in a series of questions about their experience in Cairns.

Respondents were asked to rate the quality of service they experienced while visiting the tropical north on a scale of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (highly satisfied).

While issues such as personal safety, friendliness of accommodation staff and tour operator service all rated highly, the question of "shop closing times" scored 3.54, the lowest score of 20 questions asked.

Local tourism industry figure Ron Livingston said shops catering for tourists should consider later trading hours, though he pointed out shopping was not a high priority for tourists visiting our region.

"Recognising that shopping in Cairns rated OK in the CQUni survey, perhaps retailers in the CBD who believe they have an offering that will be attractive to tourists could stay open an hour or so longer to try to take advantage of those returning from the reef around 5pm," he said.


But retailers themselves say it's not viable to stay open into the evening, particularly for those owner-operators who already work long hours - often six days a week.

Wages, training new staff and other costs are seen as being too high to stay open longer.

Janine Froggatt, who owns the popular fashion boutique Shine on Grafton, experimented with late trading hours but has since scaled back to a 5:30pm closing time.

"For us there's not enough people shopping to justify staying open. All of us along here on Grafton St do really full days - six days a week - and most of us only have Sunday off," she said.

"I was opening at 7pm on Thursdays but I've wound that back because it just wasn't viable.

"I think we need the economy to grow some more for us to reconsider staying opening later."


CBD pharmacy owner and Cairns CBD Taskforce member Nick Loukas said city retailers needed to take a "leap of faith" to address the issue. The Cairns Chamber of Commerce has previously floated the idea of the CBD becoming a 24-hour trading zone, though that concept has failed to gain traction.

Mr Loukas believes the solution rests with retailers. To go back to the metaphor at the top of the article: if tourists are the chicken, retailers are the egg.

"It's important for Cairns city retail businesses to address the shortfall in expectations from tourists who are disappointed with early closing hours," he said.

"We pride ourselves on being a tourist town however we not acting like it in in this area.

"Tourism at the moment is on a high and we need to maintain this by giving tourists what they want.

"I think the minimum that businesses should consider is opening past the traditional 5.30pm close to 8.00pm or even 7.00pm. There is a leap of faith required though as results will not be instant.

"The more businesses extend hours in an area the better it is for all businesses."


Few retailers have been operating in the Cairns CBD as long as Victor Mellick. He has been on the floor of his high-end menswear store on Abbott St for more than 50 years.

Mr Mellick's store focuses on local customers, so opening later to attract tourists isn't on his radar.

But he does believe that shops catering to tourists should stay open beyond 5pm.

"I close at 6pm every night, and that's because I'm in a fairly unique position where we offer a more personalised service for loyal customers," Mr Mellick said.

"But I do agree that the Cairns CBD needs extended shopping hours.

"If I was starting off in business now and had a shop that was attractive to tourists, I'd be opening to 10pm.

"When I leave the shop here after I close at 6pm, I walk down the streets and they are chock-a-block. It's great to see for Cairns, but retailers do need to rethink the way they service them and later trading hours should be part of that."