Traders all smiles as they welcome back customers
By Brendan Rees
Traders in Docklands are pinning their hopes on a robust rebound after finally waving goodbye to the world’s longest lockdown, which dealt a devastating blow to the precinct.
After months of being confined to their homes, residents and visitors flocked to the city on October 22 to celebrate their newly returned freedoms, giving a much-needed cash boost to businesses.
But for some hospitality businesses, the celebrations were short-lived with cafes and eateries telling Docklands News that while they were excited to welcome back diners, they were still desperate for the return of office workers who were their biggest clientele.
“For us at the moment, there’s no change,” Angelo Theo, who runs Inner Rush and Focaccino cafes in Bourke St with his wife Patty, said in the days after the city reopened.
“I would say there is a little bit more activity around the place … but people still aren’t back at work and really they’re our customers.”
“It might change after the Melbourne Cup where it’s 80 per cent [full vaccination] and there’s a bit more freedom and you don’t have to wear masks outside. I’m hoping that might be a little bit of a difference.”
Mr Theo added he was now working towards November 24 when the state reached its 90 per cent double dose milestone and further restrictions were eased, which he believed “we’ll hit our stride and start seeing a massive difference”.
Lou Simonovski, who co-runs the Swedish-inspired GoKotta KAFFE in Village St, said they were caught off guard by a surprise clarification that all workers in cafes, pubs, and restaurants had to be fully vaccinated – just days before the city reopened.
It meant he and his business partner could not book their second COVID-19 jab in time and were restricted to takeaway only during the days after the reopening.
“It wasn’t only us, it caught everyone out; so stupid,” Mr Simonovski said.
He also voiced his frustration at the City of Melbourne’s new scheme of offering cheap parking in the CBD on weekends and after 4pm on weekdays which he labelled as “madness”.
“It just targets people after 4pm – who’s going to go to a café that serves brunch [at that hour]? None of it makes sense,” he said, adding the precinct was already “dead” without office workers.
For Peter Mastro, who co-owns Saluministi in Bourke St, which specialises in breakfast and lunch, the end of lockdown was “really refreshing”.
“Just the noises and the feels when you come towards the end of Bourke St and end of Collins St … and see people sitting in chairs and the clatter of teaspoons is lovely,” he said.
What we’ve seen is probably a little bit more Docklands community than ever before because those who live in NewQuay and Port Melbourne have banded together in the sense that they’re walking more, they’re out more, they’re knowing their local better.
But like many, Mr Mastro said the return of office workers was vital for their business, which he predicted wouldn’t occur until “well after Australia Day”.
In the meantime, he said the end of lockdowns had “allowed us to make more committed decisions and we want to grow and potentially open more stores”.
“If things can only get better from here then we could take more risks.”
Andrew Ward, who operates PUSH! Fitness on Collins St, said he had been booked out every day for six weeks for outdoor personal training, and looked forward to welcoming clients back indoors.
“There’s this real need for health and wellbeing. There’s a real catch up I think in the next three-to-six months for people to focus on the things that make them feel good,” he said.
“The response to the opening has been really strong. We can’t wait to open.”
Johanna Maxwell, president of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, said, “we’re so excited to see the precinct coming back to light”.
“We’re fully aware that this is going to be a long hard road to recovery,” she said.
“Docklands has been hit harder than anywhere else in Australia. We know that, the City of Melbourne knows it, Development Victoria knows it and the state government knows it. That’s why we’re seeing collaboration like never before.”
“In the coming months Docklands is going to come to life with a great raft of activations. We’ll be leading it off with Summer at The Docks supporting a maze activation from the City of Melbourne and amplified summer markets at The District Docklands.”
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp she was proud of “what we have achieved together as a city”.
“We’ve shown resilience, we’ve shown strength, and we’ve shown courage,” she said.
Cr Jamal Hakim, who is a Docklands resident, said he was excited to see businesses reopen with the end of lockdowns allowing “us to move forward”.
“What businesses keep telling me is that they want to operate again so that they can rebuild,” he said.
“As we reopen, Melbourne will again be buzzing with everything that makes Melbourne the ultimate destination.” •
Caption 1: Saluministi business partners Peter Mastro and Frank Bressi and their staff celebrate the return of diners.
Caption 2: Patty Theo, who runs Inner Rush and Focaccino cafes in Bourke St with her husband has welcomed the return of customers.
Caption 3: PUSH! Fitness owners Andrew Ward has had a strong response with clients wanting to get back into training.