There is no doubt the number of 'For Lease' signs on shopfronts in the Ballarat CBD is a worrying indicator for retail in the city. Yet some Ballarat store owners are reporting that the lead-up sales to Christmas have been strong, and they have been doing well all year .
The big box retailers in Australia are struggling - the revelation this week that Harris Scarfe has gone into receivership is just the latest woe - and many smaller retailers are feeling the pinch as well.
But some stores are reversing the decline, and creating a strong, individual retail environment in the face of online demand is one answer, says Liz Green of The Foundry in Mair Street.
The homewares and clothing store moved to its current premises in an historic 1855 Mair Street in June last year, after being further up Mair Street for 12 years previously. It employs four staff.
Ms Green says many shops have lost their 'meet and greet', particularly in country towns.
"I know you can't do all that in the city; the city's different, you don't know everyone," Ms Green told The Courier.
"There is no reason you can't say 'good morning'. You should know your customers in a country town. I know Ballarat's grown, but if you've been here any sort of time there's no reason not to meet and greet someone. These simple things actually cost no money: treat people like they are special.; be unique; give an experience; you have to be in here with your finger on the pulse, listening to customers, finding what they are after. To make it happen, you have to put that time in.
At the other end of the scale are Katherine and Josh Cooper, the owners of Headspace Hobbies in Sturt Street which opened recently.
"It's getting really busy towards Christmas; it's been really good," Katherine says.
"A lot of our stuff is focused on customers with cognitive issues or who are looking for mindfulness, something to slow down with. And families of course. We really do help our customers in trying to find the right thing. We're not just Target or K-Mart, trying to sell 'things'.
"We have more sourced, personalised gifts. We've decided to follow our passion, and my passion of helping people with cognitive disabilities.We have customers who love that."