HomeNEWSRegional rollercoaster: Tokoroa

Regional rollercoaster: Tokoroa

We’ve put the spotlight on seven regional Kiwi towns to figure out what retailing outside of New Zealand’s major city centres looks like in 2019. This time, we’re looking at the staunch Waikato town of Tokoroa.

In the 1980s Tokoroa’s main employer, Kinleith Mill, wound down its operations and the population dwindled.

These days, it has around 13,600 people plus a range of big-box retailers and fast-food outlets. But CBD retailers are struggling and several shops closed in 2018. 

Larry Sullivan, owner of clothing retailer Morrissey’s, worries for Tokoroa’s CBD. “If people go out of town to shop then we all lose out.”

Morrissey’s started as a menswear shop 35 years ago. Sullivan joined it in 1984. He “just missed out” on the lucrative forestry era when, every Friday, the workers would buy a new set of clothes from Morrissey’s on the way to the pub.

The shop has “moved and grooved as the market dictated” to survive, expanding into women’s clothing. It produces and sells around 3,000 of its “world famous” Tokoroa T-shirts annually. 

Online is “not a big thing” for Morrissey’s, says Sullivan. But he hopes to give it “one more push” next year.

South Waikato district mayor Jenny Shattock is refreshingly upfront about Tokoroa’s CBD.

“It may, at first sight, look bleak from a retail perspective, with some vacant properties within the CBD and many shops in need of refurbishment.”

But the council recognises the challenges facing the town, she says, and there are plenty of plans to change this in 2019. 

The council will hire a town centre manager to work with local business and potential investors. It’s also putting more than $1 million into the redevelopment of Leith Place, with green spaces, seated eating areas and a new i-SITE. 

The aim is to “provide an attractive focal point for visitors to incentivise them to spend some time in the town.”

Check out other articles in the series:

Why some Kiwi towns are rising while others struggle


New Plymouth





Selling to the Kardashians from Matiere

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 760 February/March 2019

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