• Dion Lee: Armadale store.
    Dion Lee: Armadale store.

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Walking through the streets of Melbourne's CBD, a customer would be hard pressed to look further for fashion stores.

Whether it's strolling up Bourke Street for all the major labels and brands, or glancing in the boutique windows that line Collins Street.

But only just 10 kilometres from the heart of the CBD sits the suburb of Armadale, a new challenger to the face of Melbourne's fashion scene.

At the centre of this up and coming hub for fashion, food and culture sits High Street. A strip lined with boutique after boutique, each offering new and exciting opportunities for those setting up shop.

Feathers boutique founder Margaret Porritt believes the migration is down to increasingly expensive CBD rental demands.

“On Chapel Street the rents were higher, I think at one point they were $2000 a square metre. So you're paying $200,000 to $300,000 a month. Sure, now it's coming down but in it's peak, they were asking stupid rents.”

Porritt also says the overwhelming amount of shopping malls are squeezing speciality retailers out of major locations and bringing them to places like Armadale and her suburb of Hawksburne.

“20 to 30 years ago you had, Bourke Road, Glentry road, Chapel Street. Now you've got Doncaster, Chadstone's revamp, Eastlands and then Highpoint shopping centre, so there is more action for the masses to go to there.

“The little speciality retailers are being blitzed, unless you've got a long history or you've got the edge, like Zimmermann who have just opened in High Street.”

Zimmermann isn't alone. Dion Lee, Sugar and Spice, Jac + Jack and Lee Matthews have all moved with similar expectations.

Dion Lee says the move to Armadale was facilitated by the new waves of galleries, restaurants and other designer brands opening their doors in the area.

“The area has become a fashion and lifestyle destination with galleries, great restaurants and a selection of Australia’s best designer brands continuing to emerge.

"We’ve found it’s quite different to our Emporium store which caters to women working in the city and visitors to Melbourne. High Street Armadale seems to attract locals wanting to shop closer to home in a tranquil, stylish atmosphere.”

Lee does note the risk that may exist for businesses who already have an existing location in nearby Melbourne suburbs, noting that these openings can sometimes cut into existing store profits.

However for him, this has not been the case.

“Since day one we’ve experienced strong sales at our Armadale store. Whilst some customers have moved from Emporium to shop at Armadale, the stores seem to complement each other and we’ve been able to further expand the reach of our strong Melbourne following.”

Jac + Jack co-founder and director Lisa Dempsey says further challenges include basics such as parking and increased evening foot traffic from diversified businesses other than just retail. However, these minor challenges are outweighed by the positives.

“Parking is a challenge and we’d love to see more cafes and restaurants in the area particularly dinner venues to create more buzz in the evenings.

“Aside from the more practical advantages like larger tenancies and concentrated retail, the architecture of the area also adds real character.”

Both Lee and Dempsey are aware their stores must adjust to fit in with differing peak times and customer patterns.

“Generally speaking, the area is busiest from mornings to early afternoons and quieter in the evenings. Traffic is consistent through the week and peaks into the weekend,” Dempsey says.

“We’ve found a lot of our customers visit the store for event dressing, such as weddings or the races. We also get foot traffic from the surrounding galleries and restaurants.

“Saturday is always our best day, especially when the weather is fine and people come to the area to spend the day,” Lee says.

The property market within the suburb has also been a factor for businesses looking to set up shop in the area.

With rent averaging out to $850 - $1000 a week per square metre ($90,000 a year), compared to an average of $1500 - $10,000 per square metre in the CBD, depending on footfall, more retail owners have flocked to Armadale.

CBRE head of Victorian leasing Zelman Ainsworth notes Armadale’s growing appeal is its distance from central shopping hubs.

He highlights the importance of Melbourne's well-known image for being a village shopping destination.

“They are away from shopping centres.

"Shopping centres are playing a big role in the retail industry in Australia but Melbourne has still hung on to the local village precinct, and Armadale is a prime example of a village retail precinct that has retained its characteristics, charm, its local culture but is also supported by some premium retailers.

“South Yarra, Richmond, Windsor, Prahran, Toorak and Armadale, are heavily supported and anchored by retail, by strip retail. It's also more of a boutique environment as opposed to chains.”

Ainsworth believes the rental property market in Armadale has begun to steady.

He says culture and environment have played heavily into the number of retained sitting tenants in the suburb.

A forecast over the next 24 months shows that while the area will continue to grow, it will be at a reasonably steady rate, with no major peaks or jumps expected to occur.

“Fundamentally the retail strips around Melbourne, particularly around the Armadale, South Yarra, Richmond precinct are fundamentally supported by the high net worth residents in the surrounding areas that use it as their local shops,” he says.

“It has attracted a lot of tenants and retained sitting tenants because they really appreciate, value and profit from that environment.”

As Armadale continues to not only grow but maintain interest from both retailers and customers alike, as well as holding firm in the cost of rent, the real question to ask isn't “why?” But rather “why not?”

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