The idea: Bespoke shopping
The expert: Tiffany Treloar, fashion designer and retailer
Encourage shoppers to support independent and local retailers by promoting safe business practices and a premium experience
This same kind of premium offering could work for some retail businesses too. Melbourne designer Tiffany Treloar, who has been making high-end women’s clothes since 1999 and usually employs six staff at her Flinders Lane store, plans to introduce COVID-compliant private showings as the city emerges from lockdown.
“This was a concept popular in the post-war years when women wanted to shop more privately and have help with fittings. We could do this, one on one (socially distanced and masked up) with our customers,” she says, adding that it’s a trend returning to smaller European cities, too.
“Melbourne is going to come back amazingly,” she says, citing the city’s reinvention after the recession of the early 1990s with Federation Square, art galleries, theatres and restaurants. But she says making the city more enticing with more accessible and cheaper parking and cleaner streets will help spur things along.
“As a city, we really need to think about that customer experience in the CBD. I love grungy but not grotty. We need our streets and our lanes to be cleaner. Better garbage collection, better street sweeping.”
The idea: Bring back the artists
The experts: Wendy Lasica, urban planner and cultural producer, and Dr Kate Shaw, urban geographer at the University of Melbourne
Landlords provide cheap rent so creative producers can occupy vacant buildings
Going back to the 1980s, Melbourne’s CBD wasn’t always a vibrant hub of buzzing street cafes and cool laneways. Many factors contributed to the renaissance of the late ’80s and early ’90s, including liquor-licensing reforms, an explosion in small bars and great dining, an influx of students and other residents. But another significant factor were the many creatives – artists, designers, makers, event organisers and social entrepreneurs – who found spaces to live or work in the city thanks to cheap rent.
Now with occupancy rates in the city’s office towers at 10 per cent, according to the Property Council of Australia, urban planner and cultural producer Wendy Lasica together with a group of cultural entrepreneurs has devised a plan to entice creative minds back into the city’s heart. Their Turning Circle Collective is focused on kickstarting a creative precinct in the block bounded by Collins, William, Flinders and Queen Streets.
The block, which is home to the new Collins Arch development, including a park that extends out onto Market Street and a public amphitheatre, is surrounded by historical buildings such as the Immigration Museum (formerly Customs House). But there are also a number of ’60s and ’70s buildings that some might classify as ‘B-grade’. As more people work from home there is a chance these ‘B-grade’ buildings may fall vacant, reasons Wendy, who wants to engage with landlords and local and state governments to ease the way for recent art and design graduates and other creatives to move in.
Wendy, who has an office in Chinatown but lives in South Yarra, says she’s been motivated by a sense of dismay walking through the empty CBD on her daily exercise. “Melbourne’s DNA, its sense of identity, is totally based on its cultural heritage. This is an opportunity to bring back cultural production into the city as opposed to just cultural consumption.”
Dr Kate Shaw, an urban geographer at the University of Melbourne, says although the current tax system tends to discourage landlords from reducing rents, there are incentives the government could adopt, such as supplementary rates for vacant properties or charges on dilapidated buildings to allow for cheaper or even peppercorn rent arrangements. “It’s all doable,” she says. “It’s just a question of political will. But maybe, in a time of crisis, that political will will be unleashed.”