Traders claim loitering youths on Mount Gambier’s streets have forced them to close their doors early due to increasing theft, aggression and intimidation.
Reports of youths angering store owners and intimidating shoppers during the once popular late night trading on Thursdays in Mount Gambier prompted an investigation by The Border Watch last week.
Over the course of the night in the central shopping precinct, Commercial Street resembled a closed carnival ground in which restless youths treated the city centre as their playground while an increasing number of “fed up” shop owners closed their doors.
One shop owner, who asked to remain nameless due to fears of further harassment, emphasised the seriousness of the situation.
“We are often closing early now because of the problems we have with the young kids — that is how bad it has become,” he said.
“Look across the road — it is the main trading night of the week and all the shops are shut.”
The shop owner reported that he had concerns for the safety of his staff and customers on many occasions.
“Customers are scared — we have had to walk people to their cars and my staff often ask me to do the same for them,” he said.
Peter Gandolfi, who owns a Commercial Street shop, said he also feared for the safety of his staff.
“There are often youths about hurling abuse — when this is happening I have to bear in mind the safety of the staff,” he said.
Mr Gandolfi said he was considering reducing his trading hours even further due to the problems affecting the main street.
“I am only open until seven, but am looking at closing even earlier as business is becoming worse,” he said.
According to shop owners who spoke to The Border Watch said incidents included theft, petty vandalism to cars and shops, violent brawls, offensive language yelled at pedestrians and skateboarders playing chicken with customers using the footpath.
One shop assistant reported a group of teenagers had walked over the top of her car, damaging the roof.
An employee at clothing shop said theft attempts were common on Thursday nights.
“Girls often give me a hard time and play around to try and steal a jacket,” she said.
Another shop assistant pinpointed young girls to be the worst offenders.
“The girls are very vocal with their foul language,” she said.
On a night said to have once belonged to families, shop owners spoken to all agreed “hoons” were to blame for desertion of the streets on Thursday evenings.
“I remember I used to come down with Mum and Dad to shop on Thursday nights, but now only scattered shops are open– I blame it on the hoons,” a female shop assistant said.
The local shop owner who asked to remain anonymous said “late night trading hours used to be family time, but now Mr and Mrs average family say stuff that! We don’t want to go out and be abused.”
Mr Gandolfi agreed, stating the atmosphere created by the “undesirables” loitering along the street did not make the area attractive for families after dark.
One shop owner suggested the recent increase in trouble on the main street could be attributed to Centro Mount Gambier’s recent success in dealing with the same problem.
“I heard they have been kicked out of Centro so they have come down here now,” he said.