How 180 Port Melbourne SMEs are rejuvenating their shopping strip: “We’re all in this together”

This Thursday evening, Christmas will arrive at Bay Street in Port Melbourne.

It’s the day the bayside shopping strip’s 180 retailers will have their window displays completed. The shops will be open late as thousands of families stream into the strip to view the shopfronts of the participating businesses.

It’s the second year Bay Street’s retailers have coordinated their Christmas displays, and Jennifer Crosswell, the proprietor of homewares store Edelene on Bay, says she can’t wait for this year’s event.

“Last year, it was amazing,” she tells SmartCompany. “We had so many people – on the night a couple of thousand people turned up, which was quite unbelievable given it was a 39 degree day.”

“It’s huge, and just beautiful.”

Crosswell is on the Port Melbourne Business Association’s committee, and has been the principal organiser of this year’s event, which features 4.5 kilometres of unique window displays along the strip.

The displays are crafted by Swiss artist Roz Zweifel, who’s created 2000 display windows, each suited to the particular store.

The event receives no funding from the local council, with the $30,000 cost to create and install the windows being split between the 180 traders through their annual levy to the Port Melbourne Business Association.

“It’s such a great shopping strip,” Crosswell says. “So many people in the community tell me they’re so proud to live here, and to see all the retailers united like this. It’s bringing us together, and getting people from outside the area to visit the strip.”

Getting such a project off the ground required getting businesses that are normally competitors to work together for the good of the area.

Paul Littmann, president of the Port Melbourne Business Association as well as owner of Bay Street organic dry-cleaning business Daisy Drycleaning, says it was hard to get some retailers on board the first year, but it got easier the second.

“We just went in and asked each and every retailer whether they wanted us to decorate their windows,” he tells SmartCompany. “Some of them said no, or had concerns about keeping their own branding. But then they saw their neighbour’s windows and would then ask us to do theirs too.

“This year, we’ve had no trouble getting people on board. It’s become an important part of the yearly calendar. And the community gets in on it. Retailers get asked where their window displays are.

“Come January, they’re dragging their feet about taking the displays down.”

Crosswell says you can’t think like competitors if you want a strip of retailers to be successful.

“We all work together, and we need each other,” she says. “If we had one bike shop, no one would come here to buy a bike. Because we have three or four, people come here to have a look at everything at once.

“And that’s the case with plenty of our stores.”

One of the event’s highlights is the 12 Days of Christmas displays, which are an adaptation of the classic Christmas carol to Port Melbourne. Visitors to the street go around trying to find all 12 displays, which are dotted throughout the street.

“The trading night is one thing, but what’s really lovely is coming down here a week or two before Christmas and seeing an 80-year-old grandparent with his five-year-old grandson singing the carol together as they find the windows,” Littman says. “It’s really special.”

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