Amid a stifling and ongoing stage-four lockdown in metropolitan Melbourne, 15 new businesses are set to reopen and put life back into the Chapel Street retail and hospitality precinct.
It’s a drastic change for an area that has been quiet for weeks, but Chrissie Maus, general manager of the Chapel Street Precinct Association (CSPA), says local residents are keen to reignite the life of Chapel Street and support local businesses.
“These shop owners are buoyed by the DNA makeup of our community and the future of high streets in general, which we anticipate will thrive once more when lockdowns are lifted,” said Maus in a statement.
“Today is a red letter day for our amazing community. It’s the first sign that life is beating back into the heart of our precinct,” she added.
“Every cloud needs a silver lining and the ‘road out’ is now in sight — not only for our current business owners, but those who feel so confident in the strip’s future that they are willing to open new businesses.”
New in town
Fintan Redmond and James Pettenon are the owner-operators of one of the 15 new businesses that are ready to open — a cafe called Head Honcho.
“We’ve both been dipping into our savings a little bit and we’ve had support from family,” Pettenon tells SmartCompany.
Radmond and Pettenon say that although it’s a “disheartening period” with Melbourne still subject to strict coronavirus restrictions, they’re determined to put in the hard work to see their business come to life.
“We’re just putting in the hours to get it up off the ground,” says Redmond.
“We can’t wait forever.”
Fellow business operator Hash Tayeh tells SmartCompany he is keen to open his new Burgertory store on the iconic Chapel street corner formerly home to a Hungry Jacks outlet.
“This is an awesome opportunity to take over that corner where a global dominator used to be,” says Tayeh.
“It’s a milestone for us.”
Tayeh has five other Burgertory locations around Melbourne — in Airport West, Braybrook, Kensington, Footscray, and Scoresby — and says while profit margins have dropped during the lockdown, using food delivery platforms has allowed sales to continue to flow through.
“We went into this in March with the vision that we want to stay afloat for our staff and a lot of them are students,” Tayeh says.
The extended lockdown has also meant that Tayeh has been able to secure a more favourable rent for the Chapel Street outlet.
“My plan has always been to expand. When we initially scoped out the site we thought we’d be rejected but we did get quite a good deal,” the business owner says.
“COVID presented us with an opportunity where landlords can’t charge tenants whatever they feel like.”
Ready for change
Tayeh is among many Melburnians sitting on the edges of their seats and waiting for Daniel Andrews’ Sunday lockdown roadmap announcement.
While it’s expected further restrictions will ease beyond the proposed roadmap, Andrews has so far declined to comment on the exact nature of this Sunday’s adjustments.
“It’d be really good to see a lot more people in the streets, especially because COVID cases are dropping daily,” said Tayeh.
“We’re just hoping for outdoor dining.”
Melbourne’s hospitality culture may be dormant but there’s still kindling in the fire, and business owners are ready to “reignite it”, says Tayeh.
And, according to CSPA, local shoppers and diners want to support these businesses; Maus said shopping local and supporting Australian-made and owned products has now become the “standard”.
“Let’s not forget how incredibly tough it has been for our businesses during this crippling lockdown – these small business owners have been grappling with landlord mediation, a decimation of business, the stress of feeding their loved ones, and keeping their workers employed,” she said in the statement.
CSPA executive chairperson Justin O’Donnell echoed these statements, explaining that the model of working from home over the past six months has led to a boom in consumers wanting to buy local.
To encourage this, the CSPA has launched a campaign called ‘Two words. Support local’ to encourage Melburnians and Victorians to continue spending within local communities.
“The fight is far from over and our businesses need your support right now to help them get across the lockdown finishing line,” said O’Donnell in the same statement.