In recent weeks the business area at Mapua has had a couple of power outages, no power at any time for a business isn’t a great thing (remember the debacle in Auckland years ago) so I thought I would drop out to see how some of the small food businesses were getting on during the last power cut.
Fortunately for businesses on the wharf area Network Tasman were able to tap into one major supply and install a generator for the businesses there, others in Mapua weren’t so lucky and had to either close for the days of the power cuts or work with very limited power from their own small generators.
The first person I wanted to catch up with was Kirsten Amman who owns the Mapua Country Store with her partner Tim Fitzgerald, this is a special local store I wrote about a couple of years ago so I figured it was time for an update on their business too.
After we walked around the store in dim natural lighting we went down to Jelly Fish at the wharf to chat over a coffee and talk about what is happening in the area.
The first thing I noticed is everyone is really positive about the redevelopments carried out by Tasman District Council, I have no doubt they would do some things differently if they were undertaking the project again but at the end of the day the development at Mapua Wharf means the region now has a wonderful destination for visitors and locals alike.
Before I had coffee with Kirsten I caught up with Pat Stowe from Rimu Wine bar who is also the chairman of the Mapua District Business Association and he told me it is a fantastic place to have a business but there are a few challenges.
“Summer just goes off here and during the winter weekends are ok but the rest of the week is a bit quiet so we are looking at what we can do to change that.”
Kirsten and Debbie Lavery from Jelly Fish are also members of the associations committee, along with others from the wider district, so there is plenty of energy and positivity trying to make things better for businesses there.
Debbie joined us while we had a coffee and she said they recognise the need for collaborative thinking, “It’s exciting to be able to plan the future of the growth of Mapua, there are an interesting mix of people and attitudes in the area and there are a few challenges to work through with a few locals who don’t want more cars here, and to be fair parking is a real issue at busy times.”
Kirsten told me winter in Mapua generally is a bit quiet and some businesses close for a few weeks to have their annual holidays before it gets busy again but there are still plenty of reasons to visit the area, “Rimu Wine Bar is great place to catch up with people, the curry nights at Jelly Fish are packed with locals, the Sprig & Fern is really popular for roast lunches and dinners and locals are really supportive of local businesses.
“During the six week Christmas and New Year period locals tend to stay away from the wharf area because it is packed with tourists but it is great to see it humming and busy.
“It is exciting times, Mapua is really putting itself on the map and there is still room to grow, it is becoming more popular and seems to be one of the places visitors must come to, it is also exciting to see the growth in the area with subdivisions going in left right and centre.”
Debbie says “the whole Mapua area is morphing into something special, there are some fantastic businesses here, from clothes and homeware to ice cream, fish and chips, craft beers and fine dining, there is something here for everyone and the Great Taste Cycleway is really helping to make Mapua accessible to so many people.”
The one real issue in the wharf area is car parking at busy times, some businesses encourage staff to park further away but business owners still hear people saying they don’t go there because they can’t get a park, “I tend to pick up a lot of overflow because people can’t get a park on the wharf” says Kirsten, and she has been evolving here business to be more than just a place for fresh fruit, vegetables and specialty grocery items.
So what has changed sine she and Tim opened the Mapua Country Store on the entrance way to the Mapua township?
“First of all it has been a huge learning curve, especially about owning a retail business, we have made some mistakes along the way, there has been plenty of trial and error and while it seems to have been a long road we are feeling quietly optimistic.
“One of the biggest challenges has been learning about the fresh produce side of the business, it is a tough sector to be competitive in. Prices change daily because of seasonal influences and weather patterns and we still need to be competitive, the little guy up against the big guys, but we have carved a little niche for ourselves .
“There is no point in competing with the supermarkets so we just focus great service, trying to have the freshest possible produce, having good prices on the key things like bananas, and stocking things supermarkets don’t, we also find we can actually be cheaper or have the same pricing as supermarkets, we want to encourage locals to come to us first.”
One of the biggest challenges Mapua Country Store has is letting people know it is worth stopping in, “we want people to shop more often, buy less and buy fresh, to eat healthy food.
“We have changed some of our stock to include more organics on the shelves but organic produce is difficult, it is sometimes more expensive and doesn’t always look pretty. It is quite strange in many ways, customers love the fact we use minimal plastic packaging but then they won’t buy some organic produce because it doesn’t look pretty, they don’t want to buy fruit and vegetables that look like they have been grown at home.
“This means we end up with a lot of wastage and that is the profit margin we are throwing away”, but they have come up with one clever use for ripe fruit, they cut it up and freeze it to use in their Real Fruit Ice Creams so they have flavours like pineapple, tamarillo, kiwi fruit and mango not just berry fruit flavours. “We do taste tests in store and if we like it we put it on the menu.”
Other small businesses are now sharing the extra space Mapua Country Store had, The Mapua Country Collective includes Brook St Lounge that sells second hand labelled clothing, Gee Marie Boutique Kids sells a range of children’s wear and wooden toys, ZEJA is a range of skin care products and they have their Little Digs @ MCS garden centre in back courtyard.
Kirsten says there is a wonderful community feel in Mapua with local businesses supporting each other and sending people to other shops within the community, “this little village of Mapua is an exciting place to be, it is a place for people and we see that every weekend when people leave the big smoke of Nelson and come out to the seaside village of Mapua.”
I say don’t wait for the weekend, Mapua at this time of year is a fantastic place to spend some time before the holiday makers take over in the summer months.