AFTER 50 years, an iconic Ballina River St store will close its doors on June 17.
And that has "broken the heart" of current owner of La Boutique, Mary Richards, who says Ballina's heart - the town centre - currently is beating very unsteadily.
While she blames the current global economic climate, the increasing cost of living and the growth of internet sales for forcing her to close the doors, she also questions whether local landlords could do more to help businesses.
The 65-year-old said she had counted 20 empty shops in Ballina's CBD, with rumours of more to shut by the end of this year, both in the CBD and in shopping centres.
"In the last 12 months, all I have made is the rent," she said.
"I've never seen anything like this.
"I worked through the Hawke and Keating years (in the late 1980s) and the 'recession we had to have'.
"I don't want to go, but financially, I have to go.
"With all the shops closing, you wonder if landlords could have helped more.
"It doesn't create a good image for the town with empty shops."
Mrs Richards has owned the business since 1987.
La Boutique first opened in 1962 with Joe Glynn selling everything from dinner sets to lawnmowers.
Lorna Hitchens then had the business in Cherry St for a time, selling upmarket gifts and jewellery, before Joan Williams took over in the store's current River St location in 1978.
Mrs Richards has faith that the times will turn, and Ballina will prosper again.
"I, unfortunately, can't wait," she said.
Ballina Chamber of Commerce executive officer, Nadia Eliott-Burgess, said there were positives which would help the town's ailing economy. In the pipeline are the CBD upgrade plus the rebuilding of Little Woolworths and the proposed redevelopment or refurbishment of Wigmore Arcade.
"The global financial crisis has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty which means people simply are not spending as much in the retail environment as previously," she said.
"It is now more important than ever for us to support business in Ballina by shopping locally.
"For every dollar spent in a local business a proportion will be multiplied as it circulates though the local economy."
The Chamber and Ballina Shire Council are hosting a series of e-commerce workshops, and the final one will be held on May 30 at the Lennox Head Cultural and Community Centre dealing with Facebook. Phone 6681 5049.