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How to enhance the attractiveness of Šibenik's old town? By its residents and retailers

15 September 2016

Šibenik is considered to have the most beautiful old town centre on the Adriatic, which includes the impressive St. Jacob’s Cathedral that is protected by UNESCO. However, many negative trends took its toll on the life of this part of the city. Retailing revival of the old town centre is a priority for the local authorities which is proven by their strong engagement on the RetaiLink project. As a part of this project, local authorities have developed successful cooperation with the residents as well as the retailers located in the old town centre. We discover their impressions in this article, by Petar Mišura.

1) Jozo Topić, retailer.

One of the longest-running retail stores located in the old town centre is the Topić optics, which was opened by Jozo Topić in 1981. It has changed three locations during its 35years existence - today it is located near the St. Jacob’s Cathedral, in the heart of Šibenik. Topić is one of the few whose business is still located in the city centre.

He states that: “Touristically, the old town centre is a brand. Tourism is our future. However, its development is spontaneous and uncontrolled, especially when it comes to apartmanization. Transformation of business premises into apartments is a proof that a clear vision still doesn’t exist. The life of the old town centre today is very acquiring. Its infrastructure is dilapidated and it is very hard to maintain a communal order. However, investing in the old town centre equals investing in the economy. If you invest deliberately, the money will be paid back quickly”.

He adds that: “Firstly, it is very important to talk about interdisciplinarity. I’m glad that things are moving forward in this area. Meetings that are being held as a part of the Urbact project are certainly productive. There are many different interests that need to be reconciled and satisfied. The City must manage the assets located in the old town centre as well as the communal problems wisely. It is important to insist on reaching and maintaining certain standards because it’s the only way to improve the level of service. There are three different problems of vital importance that need to be solved as soon as possible: parking spaces, store accessibility and infrastructure that requires readjustment. I hope that the reconstruction of the city’s main square, Poljana, will be a pointer on how to make a profitable investment”.

2) Anton Dobra, former restaurant and bar owner.

We wanted to hear the opinion of the residents considering the present-day situation in the retail sector as well as its future in the old town centre. Anton Dobra is the former owner of a restaurant and bar in the city centre so he is familiar with these issues. He recalled the time when shopping malls were not so common and popular:Retail businesses located in the old town centre were operating much better in the past. Almost all craft owners relocated their businesses on the periphery. The reasons why the customers don’t like to shop in the centre are simple: in shopping malls, all stores are located in one place and there are free parking lots”.

Dobra states that the current situation in the retail sector is not good. The city is losing its soul. Although there are a few exceptions, the brands that are located in the old town centre are, generally speaking, not high-quality brands. In order to change that, the branding of the old town centre needs to be done. There is also the problem of overpriced parking”.

Dobra also offers some suggestions considering the revitalization of Šibenik’s old town centre:The first step that needs to be taken is to liberate traders as well as restaurant and coffee shop owners from paying the municipal fees and monument annuities. It should firstly be applied to those who invest in reconstruction of working spaces, facades, etc. They should be given stimulations. I also think that traders located in the old town centre should cooperate, not see each other as a competition. They should organize joint promotional activities and if it is necessary, traders should also agree to lower the prices as well as organize joint events. Šibenik should be able to offer more than uniform offers. There should be more entertainment events and less coffee shops and restaurants – their number should be limited. Even shopping malls don’t have more than two coffee shops. The offer should be expanded in other direction. Finally, the extension of working hours should be considered for all stores located in the old town centre”.

3) Želimir Mikulić, resident.

Želimir Mikulić is a professor at the Polytechnic in Šibenik who lives in the city centre. He thinks that retail businesses located in the old town centre were operating much better in the past for two reasons: Although it is true that shopping malls dragged people away from the centre, trade business is going through a transformation. A new era has arrived in which people buy goods online which means that even shopping malls are losing its customers. People visit shopping malls in order to spend time, not money. Another problem of stores that are located in the old town centre is availability. I am emotionally attached to this story and because of that, the only problem of the city centre that bothers me is the lack of parking spots”. Mikulić emphasized that Šibenik is not the only city whose retail businesses are leaving the old town centre.

As a resident of this part of the city, Mikulić feels that he is competent enough to state his opinion on how to revive retail:I think that the City of Šibenik needs to introduce a unique management of business premises. In that way it would be easier to attract real brands, even if their stores would be scattered on various locations. Top quality is always welcome. I think that the building of a garage beneath the Poljana square will attract more customers to the city centre. Customers should be allured using marketing tricks, for example: a free parking could be provided to those customers that spend over 100 kunas in stores located in the old town centre. A diversification of activities should be done as well. The existence of four coffee shops without a single store on one square should not be allowed. There is also the problem of monument annuities which represent a burden for traders. Business should especially be alleviated for the best traders and caterers. It is necessary to set conditions that will define who will pay what and with what amount of money. At the same time, “big” businessmen have to raise the level of quality of services of the “small” ones”.