The evolving landscape of Inverell's CBD is a 'changing of the guard' rather than a desertion of businesses, Chamber of Commerce president states.
Businesses are closing their doors, some are expanding while others are popping up in a climate that "never slowed down," despite chain store desertion and COVID.
Decades-old establishments like Jill's Flower Shoppe, The Union Bar and Fiona's Fashions, and their newer counterparts like Thistleflowers are calling time, while the General Merchant owners are selling up.
But others, like the Clover and Co., Emporium Cutting Edge Country are expanding. The Oxford prepares to reopen, and the Welder's Dog continues their mission to launch in Inverell.
If anything, Chamber president Georgina King explains that the business world in Inverell is better than ever.
"I don't think retail ever slowed down," she said.
"Clover and Co., Emporium, they've expanded, Eclectic House has expanded, Sprinkle and Bake have taken off, we actually had businesses come to town and expand during that COVID period."
Jess Robertson-Cuninghame, owner of Cutting Edge Country, said her business has been growing exponentially. They've just moved from Vivian Street to Byron, and have taken on more workers to "lighten the load".
"Inverell is no ghost town, businesses come and go - but there is a far better vibe here than in other towns," she stated.
"There are a lot of loyal locals who will loudly and proudly support you."
Even the loss of Target and even Rivers back years ago hasn't dented the interest to travel to the Sapphire City.
"I don't think anyone blinked all that much when they left," Ms King said.
Chatting to shops around town like Vivier Boutique, she said that prevalence of out-of-town shoppers coming in to experience Inverell's retail offerings was on the up.
That's been noted by others, too.
This has been seen by Fiona Ritchie from Fiona's Fashions, who said the one thing that stood out for her was the increasing occurrence of Armidale and Tamworth shoppers.
"They've often said to me that Inverell draws them in with the boutique stores," she explained.
Ms King said with COVID coming off the back of rain in the drought, people began to realise what was important. A little more cash-flow and confidence stemming from January rain enabled their desire to shop local.
Yet there are two main elements hindering further progress.
While vacant sites are few and far between in town, some of that vacancy could be attributed not to a lack of interest, but rather the "the landlord not being flexible".
"Some buildings are owned by people out of town who think, oh well, we used to get this much and we're not changing that," Ms King explained.
"But a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
Yet overarchingly one of the biggest set backs is finding employees.
Mark McNeil, who owns and runs the General Merchant with his wife Carol, said the business was good and the demand was there, but the ability to find staff was the town's Achille's Heel.
"The employees we have are stellar, but it's getting more here that's the issue," he said.
While selling their restaurant due to health reasons, he hopes someone will come over and take up the mantle they've left.
Ms King said we needed more "COVID orphans".
She'd had two herself at Hip Pocket, two from Sydney and one from Melbourne, who lost their jobs and moved to Inverell for a change of pace.
Yet progress is being made on that front. The Inverell Chamber of Commerce is putting the wheels in motion for a campaign to help attract, assist, and keep workers right here in the Sapphire City.
Workshopping ideas in a multi-agency, collaborative approach, Inverell has been told to "watch this space" for an announcement coming soon.
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