Innovation, creating local experiences not available online, and excellent service are key to Armidale's retail and hospitality future, three successful and optimistic business people told a forum recently.
"You can't go back to Armidale of the '80s in The Mall and think you can recreate it," said Yvonne Langenberg from Boobooks.
"Those days have gone and we must change and be innovative to thrive and survive."
Ms Langenberg joined Nathan Walker from Café Patisserie and Trent Rush from The Goldfish Bowl to speak at NOVA, the UNE/Council joint initiative, based at the old library in Faulkner St. to support and grow new and established businesses in the city and region.
Both café owners said they source ingredients locally where possible, take a seasonal approach to food, create a welcoming vibe and train and maintain staff and consistent quality and service.
They also emphasise sustainability and The Patisserie has installed a commercial composting unit to recycle the large amount of food and other waste it generates.
"The composter mimics the natural composting process that is accelerated via agitation, airflow and microbes," said Mr Walker.
"The process is aerobic and does not produce dangerous gases like methane. We are hoping this will reduce the waste that we send to landfill while supplying a steady source of compost for our herb and vegetable gardens at the cafe, reducing the cost of removal and making the most of what was a wasted resource."
Mr Walker now has plans underway to open an additional outlet with space for growing some fruit and vegetables.
"We want to use the freshest and best tasting food," he said.
"Being a chef is about finding solutions to problems, which is what we do all the time."
Trent Rush said the Goldfish Bowl sources the flour for its woodfired sourdough products from Gunnedah and makes all the products it uses in house, employing 31 full and part time staff.
He is also wholesaling products to Moree, Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Uralla and Walcha.
All three business owners would like to see more local market days in the city, creating unique experiences people can't access online and constant innovation to keep customers coming.
Convener Dr Lou Conway said that despite the difficult retail and hospitality environment of recent times many local businesses had taken up the challenge and many new ventures based on local artisanship were opening in the Armidale CBD and elsewhere.
"Local products and local talent along with new technology, innovation and seizing opportunities as they arise is the key," Dr Conway said.
"We have some very talented people in the city and region, and the more we work together to create a vibrant environment where they can flourish, the more we all benefit."
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