Empty shops create opportunities for some traders

Concerned about the boarded-up stores, empty windows and proliferation of “for lease” signs, the City of Melbourne is aiming to get empty shops occupied, even on a short-term basis.

“We’re saying hand them over on a month-by-month [basis] to activate them,” Mr Hanney said. “They [can be] taken back by the landlords/owners at any point in time … but we’re having them occupied.”

“For lease” signs on Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD on Tuesday. Credit:Eddie Jim

Lord mayor Sally Capp said local artists, entrepreneurs, precinct associations, the real estate industry and landlords would all be enlisted to transform vacant shops.

“We are using art, performance, new retail pop-ups, entrepreneurial activities, even community radio stations, to create lively installations in empty shopfronts, with a focus on Docklands, Lygon Street and the CBD,” she said. “These will help draw people to our city, but will also ensure that the experience and vibe through our streets is something that people would expect.”

Mr Hanney pointed to Dubai in 2009 following the global financial crisis as an example for Melbourne to follow.

“They finished off the outside of every building. It didn’t matter what happened inside, but it didn’t present as a decaying city, and I think there’s something [to learn from that],” he said.

“Retail and the city will come back, but we need to make sure we’re giving them as much opportunity [as possible] to enable that to happen.”

Collins Place in the CBD under lockdown on Tuesday. Credit:Eddie Jim

A spokeswoman for AMP Capital, the landlord for Collins Place, where Dame is set to open, declined to comment on the number of vacant shopfronts in the shopping centre, but said Collins Place had supported tenants and retailers during the pandemic.

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“As Melbourne re-emerges from the world’s longest lockdown, we are looking forward to getting back to business,” the spokeswoman said.

AMP Capital has signed new leases during the COVID period for Collins Place with Dame, a new three-level restaurant, Botswana Butchery, and an expanded Laurent Patisserie.

The Property Council is also keen to address vacancies in the city. Its Victorian director, Danni Hunt, said there was “no doubt” a lot of businesses left the city, particularly retail and hospitality businesses that were under a lot of stress and pressure.

“There’s a job to do, on the part of landlords as well as governments, in getting new tenants into those spaces, or at least getting temporary users into those spaces, so the city is activated and there’s a real vibe around the city when people return,” she said.

“It will be a little bit of a cart-before-the-horse-type scenario; we want the city to have vibe to attract people back in, and we need the people to come back to the city to have the vibe.”

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