Fremantle Economic Development and Marketing manager Tom Griffiths said the issue was an international one, affecting not only Fremantle, but also many commercial strips around the country and the world.
The City has attempted to be proactive about the issue in the past. It introduced a higher rate payment for the owners of properties which have sat empty for longer periods of time, but this was knocked back last month by the State Administrative Tribunal after they deemed the differential rates invalid.
Mr Griffiths said the popularity of online shopping meant bricks-and-mortar shops needed to change the way they operate.
‘This is a transitional period for retail globally and cities around the world are working hard to come out stronger in the end with a more experiential offer because the days of selling imported commodities with no value adding is gone as shoppers can source this directly online,’ he said.
A survey conducted earlier this year found the City’s vacancy rate for retail was 7.4 per cent, a figure Mr Griffiths says is a lower rate than most, including popular retail strips like Perth arcades, Melbourne’s Chapel Street and Sydney’s Oxford Street.
‘I recognise that Fremantle has room to improve, but it is important to put our issues into the national context,’ he said.
‘We think (Fremantle’s vacancy numbers) have remained the same since 2009, but perhaps vacancies are in higher profile locations now such as the High Street Mall.
‘Unfortunately, bad news stories get more coverage and we see more ‘another shop closing down in Fremantle’ stories, but little has been done to concentrate on ‘the new kids on the block’ that have greatly added to the offering.’
Fremantle recently welcomed a number of new businesses in the last two months, including Ball & Chain, Grill’d Burgers, The Mantle, Tutti Fruitti and Escape Hunt.
Mr Griffiths said while some vacancy was good to balance market forces and allow new businesses to come in, 7.4 per cent was too high. He would prefer to see it around 4 or 5 per cent.