Fears for traders as virus takes its toll

By Sean Car

While the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) remains open to the community, many traders say they fear that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic could spell the end for their businesses. 

QVM management and the City of Melbourne announced a three-month relief package on March 20 for the market’s 600-plus traders, which council said would be “reviewed and adjusted” where required. 

The three-month trader support package includes 50 per cent in rent relief for non-food traders and 25 per cent for produce and food-related traders, while also allowing specialty shopping traders in C to M sheds the option to temporarily close. 

“We will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with the City of Melbourne and relevant authorities to evaluate the impacts and consider additional support required for traders,” QVM CEO Stan Liacos said.
“This support package will provide immediate relief for traders to help their businesses get through the next few months.”

While the relief package comes as welcome news for traders, Friends of Queen Victoria Market (FQVM) president Mary-Lou Howie said the virus was only compounding existing issues for many. 

She said 50 per cent in rent relief was not enough for some, who she said were already facing permanent closure before the outbreak. 

“You can’t make money if there are no people and this is not including the coronavirus. This was happening before,” she said. “What’s happening now is, because of the empty spaces, management is asking all the traders to spread.”

“If you look realistically, clothing and retailing is down. To compound that with the coronavirus, and the major factor of having a CEO with no retailing experience, you’ve got a perfect storm.”

Ms Howie said FQVM and traders were continuing to push for QVM Pty Ltd to be abolished to allow for the establishment of a co-operative governance model at the market. 

Fruit and vegetable trader Rosa Ansaldo, who has been operating at the market for 33 years, said retail at the market was already “dead”.  

“We sell in bulk to families and we do a lot of Kenny’s restaurants and a lot of the CBD, down in Docklands. Most of it is delivery and some is pick up. IGA Expresses come and pick up,” she said. 

“Bulk retailing is the only thing keeping us alive. The retail is just dead.”

“This is our livelihood. There are 600 traders and it’s their livelihood. We have no tenure, no future, no nothing. Yet this place does not belong to Stan Liacos or the City of Melbourne. It belongs to the people of Melbourne.”

The news of a relief package follows the forced postponement of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, which was in the process of setting up its festival HQ at QVM in March when news of the COVID-19 outbreak took hold. 

“We understand that news of this postponement will be a great disappointment to our guests. Everyone in our organisation is heartbroken by this turn of events,” Anthea Loucas Bosha, CEO of Food and Wine Victoria said. 

Despite the uncertainty, QVM will continue operating under the mantra of “business as usual” with trading hours to remain unchanged. 

Queen Victoria Market is open from 6am to 3pm Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and from 9am to 4pm every Sunday. Speciality shopping opens at 9am •

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