Blow to Morwell CBD

MORWELL businesses are bracing for a potentially “crippling” downturn in consumer activity, after the long-rumoured closure of Spotlight’s Commercial Road store was confirmed last week.

In a move which could cause a significant downturn in Morwell’s central business district, the town’s “drawcard” store will close its doors on 17 February, shortly before the opening of a Traralgon superstore.

While all Morwell staff will be relocated to the new store, which is set to open on 20 February, there are widespread fears the closure will see many other businesses lose significant flow-on traffic.

Advance Morwell chair John Guy said it was a terribly disappointing decision which would “put a big hole in the CBD”.

“Spotlight was absolutely one of Morwell’s ‘anchor’ tenants; it attracted people from other towns as far away as Yarram and Warragul,” Mr Guy said.

“You would drive past there on Saturday and see the amount of traffic on the weekend which would flow on to other businesses.”

Morwell resident and frequent Spotlight customer Carole Pike said she shopped at the store at least three times a week, and said the Morwell customer base was extremely unhappy about the move.

“I don’t think we are going to have any need for anyone to go into Morwell unless you are a local; there is just nothing here now and we are really mad because everything seems to go to Traralgon,” Ms Pike said.

“Morwell was central for everyone, in the Valley and the wider area, from Fountain Gate through to Sale; there were a lot of out of town customers which Morwell will lose.”

Mr Guy questioned the company’s conduct leading up to the closure, after meeting with Spotlight management last month over growing rumours the Morwell store would close.

“They told me they hadn’t made any decision yet… these people stand there and tell you plain lies; they told me they weren’t going to move which was just plain rubbish,” Mr Guy said.

A Spotlight spokesperson told The Express in late November the company had no plans to close the store.

Latrobe City Central Ward councillor Graeme Middlemiss said the company’s lack of transparency surrounding the Morwell closure was failing its social responsibilities.

“I’ve heard the (closure) rumours for about six months now; I was only last week talking to somebody who had connections to the company and they denied it completely,” Cr Middlemiss said.

“I am extremely disappointed about this issue, and it makes you wonder what moral code they work under… businesses have a social responsibility to the community they trade in, and it’s always disappointing when a business takes a very selfish approach.”

In a limited response to questions from The Express, a Spotlight spokesperson said a decision to close the Morwell store was made last fortnight, after which staff were immediately notified.

“The reason that we are moving is to ensure that we are able to provide customers access to the best possible range of products,” the spokesperson said.

“Spotlight would like to thank the Morwell community for their continued support over the last 29 years and look forward to continuing to providing them with the best service and biggest range at the fantastic new Traralgon store in 2013.”

With the store premises, one of the CBD’s largest retail floor areas, currently up for lease, Mr Guy said Morwell needed to attract a “national player” if it were to retain current customer trade.

“We really need a developer or estate agent prepared to go out and search for people to get them in, but I don’t know whether we’ve got those people in Morwell,” Mr Guy said.