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Infrastructure a concern as Muri business district grows

Wednesday 22 February 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Business, Local, National

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Infrastructure a concern as Muri business district grows
Sisi Short cuts the hair of Ironui Short Charlie, 9, at her newly-opened salon in Muri. 23022202/ JOANNE HOLDEN

New businesses have been popping up along Rarotonga’s “golden mile” through Muri as the Cook Islands recovers from Covid-19, but concerns have been raised about whether the infrastructure is there to support further growth.

Ngatangiia MP Kaka Ama says expanding the business district in Muri needs to be managed carefully while infrastructure issues such as potholes in the road and threats to the health of the lagoon are unresolved.

“Firstly we need to get that road done in Muri, and we haven’t quite solved the wastewater and sanitation issues,” Ama says.

“I’m not sure exactly what new businesses have come up, but we’ve just got to make sure there’s room for everyone. I’m concerned about the environment, especially the lagoon.”

Manna Boutique co-owner Sisi Short says drainage is also an issue in the area, as recent flooding had caused a “big puddle” to collect outside the block of shops ahead of their opening on Saturday.

Short, who is involved with the Muri Environment Care conservation group, says Muri is still “the place to be if you want a successful business”.

“There’s everything here, it’s all walking distance,” she says.

“When starting any business, you go in with the confidence and the commitment to see it do well.”

Juice shop owner and personal trainer Chris Denny expanded his Tupapa business, On The Juice, into Muri on February 10.

“We’re doing coffees in the morning and mainly fruit juice in the afternoon,” Denny says.

“We only use natural foods. It’s all about health.

“Even though it’s quiet, we’re getting set up for March when the tourists come back. It really is the golden mile with tourists coming out all the time, sunburnt and hot.”

Despite low tourist numbers during the summer months, juice sales at the new branch were “still more than I expected” and surpassed the numbers in Tupapa, Denny says.

“The tourists that are here, they come back every day for coffee or juice.”

Denny – who operates fitness classes out of Raro Muscle, alongside his original juice shop – says more healthy food options are needed on the island.

“When I first started my security business [Cook Islands Security], I was driving from bakery to bakery and put on 20 kilos,” he says.

“There’s enough good calories in my juice to replace a meal. I use sugar cane. Even diabetics can drink sugar cane, it’s so good for you.

“I think we need more sugar cane growers on the island. I just chopped a whole barrowful of my own, but the way it’s going I might run out in a few months.”

Denny says Muri is too quiet on weekends, so his shop will be open seven days a week.

He hopes to one day expand his juice business into Arorangi and Avarua.

Barista Pahnia Howe, who sells coffee and other refreshments out of Manna Boutique, says she did not know what to expect when she moved from the Gold Coast to Rarotonga to run the shop four months ago.

“It was quite busy. It’s really quite at the moment, but we’re getting a lot of return customers,” says Howe, a former retail manager.

“I want to focus more on the locals, because they’re the ones who keep us going and recommend us to tourists.”

Another Muri business operator, who asked not to be named, says some Muri businesses had closed for a few weeks of summer as the area weathered a “terrible” low season.

“This is one of the worst off seasons because we haven’t got any link to North America.

“I think it’s going to be really good when April and Easter comes along. I’m pretty optimistic for the future.”

The business operator says Muri could benefit from more daytime shops, especially ones willing to open on Saturday when the area was most quiet.

“We’re happy that there are a few more things opening up. It’s really good to have businesses that compliment each other.”

However, the business operator is worried it was becoming too expensive to travel to the Cook Islands as airfares increased.

“Why would people come here, when they can now afford to go to Bali or other destinations for much cheaper? As the world opens up, we may start to suffer.”

The business operator says June to November last year was busy, though staff shortages – which still persist – made it difficult to cope