Otaki locals unite to support local businesses amid tough times

Parts of regional New Zealand have struggled to keep business alive in the wake of COVID-19.

One of those is Otaki, which has seen a steep decline in the number of locally-owned shops.

But now the town is coming together to restore what's been lost and showcase what it has to offer.

Locals call Otaki the small town with a big heart, but the mood has been blue in recent years, they've had it tough when it comes to business.

Toni Bolland normally runs a food truck but for months there's been no customers.

“Since everything closed I haven't seen hardly anybody here. [Business has been] completely wiped out, lots of big work cancelled, weddings, events."

And Toni isn't alone. Business has been bad in Otaki for the last couple of years but COVID-19 has made it much worse with many businesses here forced to shut up shop.

State Highway 1 runs right through town for those travelling in and out of Wellington, so although the heavy traffic might make it seem busy, no one is stopping.

But Otaki residents are determined to change that, using an empty space along the main drag to launch 'Otaki Yard' - a market to help those who have gone out of business, restart again.

Otaki Yard manager Matt Innes says it's about enabling small businesses to take the first step.

"Potentially we can get them to transition from here maybe into more permanent locations and use this as a stepping stone." 

Bringing the space together is a giant and vibrant mural commissioned by local artist Theo Arraj as a focal point for the town to gather and to showcase its talent.

"I've called it Gia's gift. It's something I wanted to tie in with Otaki Yard, I came up with the concept basing it off farmer's markets and the idea of supporting local produce." 

Local produce they hope will draw in those from out of town, making Otaki a destination rather than a pitstop.

"We want people to have a good time. We want them to buy local produce that the Kapiti region has to offer, have a great time, make a day out of it as opposed to the sole purpose of purchasing and leaving," Innes said. 

The market will open for the very first time on Saturday morning, with locals keen to get the ball rolling.

“For small businesses it's exactly the kind of vision that's needed, it will bring people back here." 

Bringing them back to breathe new life and kickstart new beginnings for this little slice of Aotearoa.