Recovery proof is in the eating

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Retail is still rough, but foodies are having a better time according to recent statistics.

Brisbane retailers struggled during November but the food scene has proven to be a surprise boon with the latest statistics for the city showing a jump in consumer spending at restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

In Queensland, total retail turnover was $4.481 billion in November, down from $4.482 in October but still higher than the $4.227 billion in November 2011.

Food retailing remained the strongest performer with $265 million spent in Queensland’s takeaway outlets alone in November, up from $258.2 million in October.

Judy Wong, who owns the FantAsia restaurants with three food court outlets in the CBD plus another at Garden City, said business was booming but it was high rents that caused businesses pain.

”I stand by my quality, service and value. I also believe in customer service and many retailers don’t know the first thing about customer service.

”Rent is expensive and I get mad at the big guys who think noodles are noodles, so they put three in a food court but one will go broke within two months.

”I feel sick for those who have mortgaged their house or borrowed family money and they may pay the price for years to come.

”I see people in tears but for us, we are busier than ever.”

But Ms Wong, who has been in business for 36 years, said the Christmas period had been strong.

”Christmas was very busy for us, busier than last year. There is a lot of negativity out there but I expect 2013 to be great,” she said.

Ashlee Hill, retail investment and leasing manager at fund manager ISPT, said she was happy about the mixed November result.

”The results were basically flat with no massive swings either way in any category, so it’s positive for us after the $100 million redevelopment of the Wintergarden.”

ISPT owns the Wintergarden, Broadway on the Mall, The Regent plus half of the Myer Centre.

Ms Hill said the data showed the fund was heading into 2013 “on stable ground”.

”Christmas was late to start but came home strongly but we are satisfied that we had solid trade. Post-Christmas sales were strong initially but somewhat short lived.,” she said.

BT chief economist Chris Caton said there was no good news in the retail spending data.

”If the consumer is cheered by the interest rate cuts, she’s still keeping it to herself,” he said.

But CommSec chief economist Craig James said post-Christmas sales had been healthy with shoppers out for a bargain.

”Aussie consumers love cheap prices, and they certainly love a bargain. Retail margins will remain under downward pressure,” he said.

”What’s going on the retail sector? It appears it’s anyone’s guess.”

National Retail Association chief executive Trevor Evans said retailers would be looking for a better result from the December trade period, hopefully leading to brighter results in 2013.

”It’s no secret that 2012 was a very disappointing year for retailers,” Mr Evans said.

”Discretionary spending went backwards throughout the year, and while there was a slight increase in food and groceries, it can be attributed to population growth rather than additional spending.

”However, we are heartened by anecdotal evidence from our members that the December Christmas and Boxing Day period produced better results.”

- Alex Tilbury, City News, January 16, 2013