One of the more curious aspects of Launceston culture is the tendency to talk down the city's CBD as some kind of retail wasteland. But compared to other regional Australian cities, it's a bustling space with many unique shops and eateries adding life to the historic streetscapes.
The reason for this vibrancy most likely comes down to what Launceston lacks: a sprawling indoor shopping centre.
Take Bendigo, for example. Hargreaves Mall - the equivalent of Brisbane Street Mall - has vacancy rates close to 50 per cent. A few days before Christmas, it was literally deserted. No shop can survive there, and this malaise flows into CBD streets nearby.
So where were the pre-Christmas shoppers in a city of 110,000 people? The overflowing car park of the nearby Bendigo Marketplace shopping centre offers the answer. It opened in 1995, separate but near to the CBD, and has continually expanded to now have 95 stores.
When it announced plans to double in size in 2006, the city's traditional CBD shopping was still described as "very vibrant". After this expansion, the decline was rapid. The air-conditioned Marketplace effectively vacuumed up the city's retail trade, leaving the CBD a sad shadow of its former self.
It's a cautionary tale repeated throughout the regions. Geelong's Westfield had a similar effect, while Ballarat incorporated its Central Square Shopping Centre into a historic CBD building, helping to retain traditional retail.
So when Launceston's Kmart Plaza submitted expansion plans in October, it was easy to see what the owners had in mind. The plaza is small now, but it'll keep growing. A city only has space for so many shops and, in the end, it presents shoppers with a choice: free parking and air-conditioned convenience, versus traditional street-side retail best-accessed on foot.
Experience shows people will overwhelmingly choose the former.
What's wrong with shopping centres, anyway? When the first shopping centres were designed in the 1940s and 50s by German socialist Victor Gruen, he envisaged green, mixed-use indoor public spaces that would lure people from their reliance on cars, to enhance the cultural experience of a city.
He grew to resent the creation he unleashed on the world. Shopping centres quickly became purely commercial ventures designed to confuse and dazzle people into spending as much money as possible, resulting in what he called "avenues of horror" reflecting the worst of our consumer-based culture.
Choose wisely, Launceston.