The operators of the Margaret River Hotel have voiced concerns they might not be able to protect the iconic main street business from national liquor retailers if they seek to buy them out.
With separate liquor licence applications for the Margaret River CBD headed to public hearings, Settlers Holding spokeswoman Rachel House said it was a known strategy of retailers like Woolworths to buy regional hotels to weaken competition.
“And that (attempt) is likely to happen, ” Ms House told the Times.
“I would like to think it wouldn’t happen, that (the hotel) is likely to remain in private ownership.”
Ms House has urged the business and tourism industries to speak up about the licensing applications because even though her business was at risk, Margaret River’s identity would be damaged by a proliferation of bottle shops.
The Margaret River Hotel was kept afloat partly by the revenue from its bottle shop, which accounted for 47 per cent of business.
“To keep those buildings, you need deep pockets, ” she said.
“If you start decimating that revenue stream, it can’t survive.”
If Woolworths bought out the hotel as they had done in neighbouring towns, residents would “get another stock-standard hotel that doesn’t have any local connections”.
Acting shire president Ian Earl said the building was important to the town, though the Shire had no plans to comment on the liquor licences that he was aware.
“They have been a pretty good citizen of Margaret River over the years and a good supporter of Margaret River sport and culture. They’ve been fantastic, ” he said.
“We wouldn’t like to see those owners selling out or baling out.”
Chamber of Commerce president Pauline McLeod said she could not comment on the liquor licence applications due to her family connection to Ms House, but the hotel was an icon that should be protected.
Mrs McLeod said the future of the hotel was crucial to the main street.
“The hotel was in place when the very first group of business people and farmers … came back from the Second World War and their catch cry was that Margaret River was the South West’s Riviera and the hotel was very much a part of that, ” she said.
Further evidence on the liquor licence applications was due by February 22, with separate hearings into the Coles and Woolworths liquor applications to be determined in Perth on a date yet to be specified.
Woolworths spokeswoman Bianca Agius said the Margaret River Hotel wasn’t on the Australian Leisure and Hospitality subsidiary’s radar at present.
“We believe a liquor outlet would provide much needed competition in the local community and offer customers great prices, ” she said.