By Sean Car
Queen Victoria Market’s (QVM’s) CEO Stan Liacos and strategy development manager Heidi Wearne met virtually with CBD resident group East Enders on March 16 as part of the market’s increasing effort to engage with the local community post-COVID.
In a detailed presentation to residents which canvassed a number of key issues currently affecting the market, including the City of Melbourne’s $268 million market renewal program, Mr Liacos used the opportunity to emphasise the economic impacts of COVID-19 on traders.
Having restored profitability to the market in 2019, Mr Liacos said that while QVM Pty Ltd had suffered a $10 million debt as a result of the pandemic, the market had made a “very conscious decision” to resort to borrowings and support traders with rent relief.
But with a mere 16 per cent of its regular customer base coming from residents living in the central city, he said the market needed to do more to attract locals after experiencing a 45 per cent drop in overall visitation in 2020.
“Most of our core customers are coming from beyond the inner ring and hence why the impact on our business was so significant during the five-kilometre COVID restriction,” he said.
“Ultimately, we do need to do more to attract more inner-city residents and attract a younger demographic over the long-term.”
East Enders president Dr Stan Capp asked Mr Liacos what the market was doing to induce more local customers to shop at the market, to which he replied, “I think we’ve got to make it easier for you to come in and out of the market precinct.”
“Better pedestrianisation, more comfort and safety and security, better public transport connections are all things we need to do to capture more inner-city residents, as well as more promotions. It’s an area of increased focus.”
Mr Liacos also informed residents that the market would be releasing a new strategy in the near future based on market research conducted in 2019, which highlighted a general desire for more hospitality and produce options, as well as events and activities.
With general merchandise trading having recently been temporarily closed on Tuesdays due to a decline in market visitation, Ms Wearne said the research had indicated that future retail should focus more on artisan products, gardening and rotating specialty items.
Mr Liaco’s presentation also highlighted how the future precinct would evolve in coming years as the City of Melbourne continues its renewal of QVM, as the “former town planner” began with an aerial view of the market to emphasise the size of the precinct.
With many residents having recently campaigned to stop the council’s planned removal of the Queen St roundabout, Mr Liacos supported the move claiming that roundabouts were “unsafe” for pedestrians.
He also said the market was looking forward to the opening of the new car park in the Munro development in July, which would pave the way for the transfer of the current car park to open space.
In a Facebook post responding to the presentation, lobby group Friends of Queen Victoria Market said Mr Liacos had painted a “rosy future” and encouraged residents to walk through the market and have a look for themselves.
“No-one bothered to ask what a town planner is doing running a complex retail precinct such as QVM? But why would they after a glowing introduction by his mate EastEnders president Stan Capp, who extolled his ‘beyond reproach’ credentials and told of their close working relationship in Geelong. The Zoom attendees were primed to believe all that fell from Liacos’s mouth.”
“Will the EastEnders accept this presentation at face value? No hard questions were asked.
We suggest all city residents step outside their comfort zone and walk throughout the upper market (between Victoria St and the car park) and have a look for yourself.”
GM traders in a “spin of depression”
Friends of Queen Victoria Market president Mary-Lou Howie has slammed QVM’s management for causing “enormous unrest” among the market’s general merchandise (GM) traders.
Describing the upper market as a “ghost town”, she told CBD News that some traders were currently involved in a “fight for lives” over rent negotiations, temporary Tuesday closure “without due process” and the ongoing disruption of maintenance works to the market’s heritage sheds.
“The QVM management’s temporary Tuesday closure decision was based on anecdotal trader feedback rather than appropriate GM trader survey,” she said
General merchandise trading was due to resume on Tuesdays from March 30 when CBD News published its April edition •