City folk return to the arcades

By Rhonda Dredge

The grace of the CBD is undeniably in its arcades but these grand urban spaces from the days of polite society are usually too full of tourists to be that attractive to local city folk. 

Collins St residents Robyn and Phillip have been loyally passing through the arcades during the lockdown.

“We live in the city and we’ve been waiting for it to open,” Robyn said. 

Table service was reintroduced in June and the couple had a list of places they wanted to visit for their first historic sit-down coffee. 

1932 Café in the art deco Manchester Unity building was on their list but the cafe wasn’t open when they arrived.

“Poppy and I were there on the last day and we were so well looked after,” Robyn said.

They decided instead on a gracious table at La Crēperie Saint-Germain in the Block Arcade and there they were in prime position at 11am, dressed immaculately, sipping on their morning coffee.

With them was Poppy, a well-behaved dog from New York who knows how to handle polite society without being on a lead.

Poppy can do a few tricks, such as stand on her hind legs, and her miraculous arrival has given the couple solace during the hard times. 

“We walk her here,” Robyn said. “We’ve been coming through the whole lockdown.”

Robyn has a picture of the arcade on her phone with not a soul in sight.

“The city has been really sad. I took a photo of the Block Arcade walking through. It was still open. It was so depressing, especially the last couple of weeks.”

The couple has had some social contact with neighbours and talking on the phone to friends but like many who choose to live in the CBD, their family is far-flung.

Their son was in Australia earlier in the year for a wedding. His dog Poppy was sent out ahead and put in quarantine. She stayed while he returned to Switzerland.

“It was a godsend we had Poppy,” Robyn said. She likes to read Pet’s Corner in the CBD News and is interested in details about other pet-lovers. Poppy spent the first six years of her life in New York and is a city dweller as well. 

Melbourne’s CBD is not as established as Manhattan, but it is home to 20,000 residents and their pets. 

As a group, CBD dwellers have endured three months of isolation in the most hard-hit suburb in Melbourne in terms of sociability, with spaces during the pandemic nearly devoid of human life.

“Because we’ve been here the whole time, we’re used to it now,” Robyn said, but she missed seeing “lots of nicely dressed young girls” on the streets.

“We had a routine. It went down to nothing.” They got by on takeaway coffee, reading and dog walks. They saw their grandchild at the end of May. 

Some of their favourite takeaway places during the lockdown were Elements on Collins St and 120 Russell Street behind St Michael’s church. 

“We’re purely city folk,” Phillip said. “Robyn worked in the city. We’ve been here 10 years. I don’t think it will ever get back to the way it was.” •

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