Shy John Brewery & Yum Cha had to turn away three people despite only 14 patrons being seated in the restaurant, which occupies prime real estate on the Northbridge side of the precinct. The reason: there was a booking for six due in the next 10 minutes.
When they promptly arrived to a bare interior, the six had their names and numbers recorded for contact tracing – a state government edict for all hospitality venues reopening as part of Phase 2 restrictions – and their temperatures taken with a digital thermometer, a restaurant initiative.
Supervisor Kye Manson said the venue was screaming out for Phase 3 to kick in on June 6 so Shy John’s could shed its inhibitions and open for 100 patrons.
“We’re really lucky we have access to JobKeeper, wages form an epic part of our costs,” he said. “Twenty people at one time is really not a lot, there are businesses struggling all over Yagan.”
A handful of exterior Yagan eateries were well attended by the time we downed some dumplings and descended to street level, but keep in mind this was smack bang in the middle of lunch hour and several other exterior venues had shutters down.
Despite the two or three alfresco tables outside each open establishment, there was an eerie lack of vibe anywhere else: no people milling, no pedestrian traffic, nobody at all sitting on any of the magnificent structure’s expansive tiered grassed lawns, watching the new world go by.
The true scale of the retail horror hit when we went to check the pulse of the 14 tenants at Yagan Square’s primary dining footprint Market Hall, the upmarket indoor food court.
While takeaway and delivery options continue and a click and collect service is available we found three businesses barely registering movement, while the other 11’s black gates were up, the lights out. The same scene presented itself a week later on another, albeit, cloudy Friday at Yagan.
DevelopmentWA, a recent merger of LandCorp and the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority, which was responsible for the original retail mix at Yagan Square, isn’t fazed by the dearth of activity there.
It said tenancies had not changed since COVID-19 restrictions were first enacted in March: “Gangnam, Hiss and Smoke, Henry Little, The Shoe, Toast My Curry, Le Vietnam, Ficus and Street Eats (all of which have been open all week). Honeycake is doing deliveries from their external kitchen,” Development WA CEO Frank Marra said.
“More will open as the restrictions are lifted. To date no tenants have permanently closed. Development WA continues to support all tenants through the rent relief package of six months, and all online media platforms including the digital tower, soon our new digital kiosks and of course our web, Instagram and Facebook.”
WAtoday could not spot any strategic promotion of Yagan Square businesses on the Development WA website or its social media channels (bar two posts this month that said some businesses were open). The digital tower was also dead the first Friday lunch hour we visited the square, the ideal time you would think to promote to people.
We wandered up the hill towards Raine Square, wondering what on earth was going on and what would Will Smith do in this situation.
As we approached the immaculate exterior facades of the $200m precinct, the staleness hit as quickly as the SORRY WE’RE CLOSED signs spattered along the shut-up shopfronts.
Walking through the street-level arcade, there were more shopfronts closed than open.
Endota Spa was shut, out of steam thanks to restrictions on beauty therapists. Flight Centre has also failed to take off post-pandemic. Likewise other tenants such as Just Eat, Presotea, Brezel Brothers, LA Nails and Pink Palace. One of Raine Square’s original drawcards – Tim Ho Wan – was forced to close for good while Cocolat has also permanently melted away.
Ironically, for a self-proclaimed high-end precinct, most of the only businesses operating were low-end, generic chains: Liquorland, Subway, SuperChem, Boost Juice and Coles.
There’s a strangeness to buying booze from Liquorland, a six-inch from Subway and stopping to eat on a bespoke $1000 bench seat besides the glittering shopfronts of Louis Vuitton and Tiffany + Co, two tenants lured to Raine Square from the organically beautiful King Street who definitely don’t require a six-month rent relief package.
A breath of life came, however, under the rubble of Raine Square… at the below-ground food court. of all places.
Half a dozen outlets were turning over cashless takeaway takings during the lunch run, while initial tenant and crafty brioche burger joint-cum-bar Greenhorns said business was doing all right since they opened two weeks ago thanks to organic foot traffic off Wellington Street and also a direct passage from the underground train line.
The first day restrictions were lifted, we had people lining up outside from 9am for a beer.
Greenhorns owners Ian Fletcher and Scott Simpson
“We’ve been doing OK since restrictions were first lifted (to allow for 20 patrons) last Monday,” co-owners Ian Fletcher and Scott Simpson said.
“That first day, we had people lining up outside from 9am for a beer.
“We’re a bit luckier here than at Yagan, as commuters step off the train lines and can walk literally straight underground to us.”
With foot traffic key to their success, one hopes more bounce will fall the way of other tenants above the pair and also neighbour Rebel Sports which, despite the boom in sports equipment retail the past few months, was as deflated as a Trump hairdo during the fortnight.
Sydney woodfire dining specialists Hunter & Barrel, one of the first tenants to close their doors when the pandmic hit, said it would reopen on Saturday.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming our patrons back to the restaurant,” Seagrass Boutique Hospitality media relations specialist Mona Ibrahim said.
Billion-dollar property fund manager Charter Hall, responsible for Raine’s retail mix, did not respond to questions about other tenants at the precinct.
Let’s hope Phase 3 kicking in across WA next Saturday will save the day, so we don’t have to call in Will Smith.
David writes about sports and lifestyle for WAtoday.