Shopfront program puts Melbourne on the world map

Shopfront program puts Melbourne on the world map

A City of Melbourne initiative to help breathe new life into empty retail spaces has been hailed as one of the most successful in Australia, if not the world.

The shopfront activation program, which was launched in September 2021 in a bid to reignite the city after shopfronts were left empty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a total of 67 pop-up shops being opened, allowing budding entrepreneurs, artists and artisans a chance to test out their crafts.

“This is one of the most intensive and successful shopfront activation programs that management has been able to identify anywhere in Australia or the world,” a council report highlighting the experiences of multiple activations in the municipality, said in April.


Testament to the quality of the program, 38 activations were extended beyond their original tenancy agreements.


Among the success stories in Docklands was boutique retailer WØRKS, a high-end personal care and home fragrance brand, which opened at shop 1, 889 Collins St in Victoria Harbour.

Their hand, body and home care products are made ethically in Melbourne and designed authentically in Århus, Denmark. 

WØRKS co-founder Suze Raymond said opening their store meant streamlining all processes and procedures within their business, “from packing and distribution for wholesale and preparation for trade shows, to having a central place to run our office/host meeting and gaining invaluable skills in visual merchandising our brand and retailing our products”.

Photographer Chris Bowes, who opened Kindred Cameras at 454 Docklands Drive, said the activation program had been “potentially life-changing”.

The space allows various artistic streams, including photography studio spaces, gallery space, co-working space and more. Classes are designed to suit those of all skill levels and focus on a pick-and-choose style of educational experience.

“Although I’m only just in the beginning of it with Kindred Cameras, I would never have been able to pull something like this off on my own,” Mr Bowes said.

“I’m excited about the future and how this could change my own career path, as well as create a space to help out emerging image makers.”

The council’s business and global opportunities portfolio lead Cr Kevin Louey said the activations had created “oomph” and “ambience” in precincts which had been “decimated by vacant shopfronts looking tired and unattractive and uninviting”.

“The pop-ups that have appeared in these shopfronts have created a great deal of interest and visitation with people from around Melbourne,” he said.

The shopfront activation program finished on March 31 this year with 29 activations still running including eight in the CBD, 16 in Docklands and five in Lygon St.

This was after 39 activations were created in the CBD, as well as 19 in Docklands and nine in Lygon St.

The council’s report noted the program had made it easier for businesses to navigate the marketplace and “will improve opportunities for potential tenants and speed up the process to fill vacant properties”.

“The program received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants and property representatives with 91 per cent of participants agreeing that the program was valuable to their business.” •

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