Harare’s central business district (CBD) is no longer suitable for large retail businesses.
Experts in the sector argue the cost of doing business is now high, while sales are dwindling, forcing businesses in retail to pay more attention to suburban retail spaces, that are proving more attractive for the market that is shying away from the decay in the city centre.
This comes as the CBD has become an eyesore due to neglect, general lawlessness, poor utilities supplies and bad infrastructure that fails to cope with both day and night population growth.
For clothing, groceries and hardware retailers, trading density is now skewed towards the suburban shops.
“With food retail, trading density depends with size of store. Some have bigger stores in CBD compared to suburban and the basket also differs,” said Edgars chief executive officer Tjeludo Ndlovu during the recently held ZimReal Property Investment Forum.
“In CBD customers carry baskets while in suburban they are pushing trolleys so trading density is going to be higher in suburban than the CBD. Large hardware retailers are following the same trend.
“For clothing retail, Edgars which speaks to the middle to upper end of the market has high density in suburban shops than in CBD. But Jet which is middle to lower end of the market has higher trading density in CBD than suburban shops,” she said.
For years, quality of infrastructure in general has been depreciating with old non-functioning elevators being among the common challenges while dirty sanitary lanes, noise, touts harassing motorists for parking space, vendors sleeping on pavements and traffic congestion add to the woes in the CBD pushing the market away.
“We have deliveries that should come through unsanitary sanitary lanes that are literally impassable with either potholes of open manholes which are a danger to the vehicles.
“Deliveries are delayed due to these challenges and the congestion and you end up ordering deliveries outside normal hours which is costly because employees will now be staying and working overtime attending. This adds to our costs,” she said adding the market had been robbed of the window shopping experience with family as it has become unattractive.
Said Ndlovu; “I don’t blame customers for shying away from the CBD.”
Additionally, erratic water supplies in the city centre is forcing businesses to order water deliveries coming through the same filthy sanitary lanes.
University of Zimbabwe senior lecturer, Audrey Kwangwama, said the situation was dire with CBD trees turned into “rest room.”
She highlighted the need for political will from both City fathers and central government to deal with the challenges affecting the capital city’s CBD and restore its sanity.
“Some of the issues are outside Harare City alone for instance the erratic water supplies. Since 1990’s we have been talking about Kunzvi Dam but up to now it’s still in the pipeline. Imagine carrying a bucket of water to the fifth floor
“This means toilets don’t work and now we have the crying trees of Harare where men just pass urine on the them in the CBD creating strong stench everywhere. It’s a sorry state
“Sanitary lanes are being used as toilets in the CBD and city of Harare cannot deal with this alone,” she said.
City of Harare acknowledged the challenge being faced in the CBD saying efforts were being made to engage with all stakeholders and property owners on the renewal of the city.
“We are resource constrained and looking for partners for this initiative. We will reengage again with partners in the last quarter of 2022,” said director of works Engineer Norman Karidza.
While property owners said they were willing to work on sprucing up their buildings, the macro-economic environment was also a factor to consider with them looking at making returns from their assets.
“There could be a case of capacity and it also depends with who owns those assets,” said FMP chief executive officer Chris Manyowa.
He said it was a chicken and egg situation as a revenue stressed asset also affected the landlord. Tenant portfolio had also changed especially with the retail where business for large retailers is skewed towards the suburban as opposed to CBD.
“No landlord wants to see their asset dilapidated with non working facilities but they can only do as much