Energetic  retailers  revive King Street cool
Motivated merchants: Mark Cain (Uncle Joes and Head Studio), Katie Gerloff (Zomp), Pippa McAuliffe (Billie and Rose), Emma Hamilton (Alpha60), Srdjan Mitrovic (High and Lows) and David Gardiner (Varnish on King). Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

Popular city shopping strip King Street has had 12 months in the doldrums as rent increases and the influx of high-end luxury boutiques forced some independent retailers to either shut shop or move to other suburbs.

But a new breed of energetic young retailers and business entrepreneurs has reinvigorated the formerly desolate Wellington Street end of the strip.

Boutiques Alpha60, Cultstatus and Billie & Rose now sit alongside La Veen cafe, underground whisky bar Varnish, shoe emporium Zomp and Uncle Joe's Barbershop and Mess Hall, which has become a gathering point for a group of friends intent on re-establishing King Street as a cool and affordable place to shop rather than the territory of big-spending luxury label lovers.

"We have people down this end of King Street who are at the coalface, making an effort to change the face of the Perth retail market," Head Studio and Uncle Joe's proprietor Mark Cain said.

"There's nothing necessarily wrong with the high-end labels opening up in Perth because they have their place in any growing city, but we need to have a mix.

"That mix is the most important part of the city's culture and growth."

The Hay Street end of the city's main fashion shopping strip is now dominated by the big glamour brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada, prompting some to claim that the street, once known as a hub of individuality, had become globalised and generic.

Two well-known Australian brands, Wheels & Dollbaby and Ruth Tarvydas, recently closed their King Street premises, citing rocketing rents and decreased foot traffic because of construction work.

"It makes a huge difference to us that there are likeminded retailers around us," Zomp store manager Katie Gerloff said.

"We all have similar ideas and goals and even though it's been a bold move to open up at the end of King Street that has traditionally been a bit neglected, we feel that it's already paying off."

Streetwear and sneaker specialist Highs and Lows, which already has storefronts in Claremont and Mt Lawley, recently opened its third space inside Uncle Joe's.

Staff member Srdjan Mitrovic said business was already thriving. "There was a time when King Street was about the independent boutique but that changed with the introduction of the vertical corporates, which pushed the small businesses out," Mr Mitrovic said. "Now we're endeavouring to bring life back to the west end."

In the 1980s King Street was home to an eclectic range of independent and alternative retailers such as Orphans and Eldorado. The independent tradition that continued into the 1990s and early 2000s with the likes of Periscope and Varga Girl before rent increases forced them to move to Northbridge and Leederville respectively. Louis Vuitton's move into King Street in the 1990s was considered a radical move, but after the resources boom King Street quickly redefined itself as a luxury label destination, with a cluster of global brands from Tiffany & Co to Bally opening up.

Varnish owner Andy Freeman said lower rents at the Wellington Street end and the development of the Perth City Link project had encouraged the flourishing of a new set of businesses in the area.

"Two-hundred and fifty metres down the road from where we are is a very different story," he said.

"But this new part of the CBD will be in full swing in the coming years and we're really excited to be a part of it."

The West Australian

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