By David Schout
CBD retailers finally got their wish in late October as Premier Daniel Andrews gave the green light to reopen two months out from Christmas.
After an anxiety-filled year, outlets forced to shutter on July 8 reopened on October 28 after a gruelling second wave of lockdowns in Melbourne.
For 112 days, most CBD retailers were open for click-and-collect only and struggled in an environment usually teeming with life.
Prior to the pandemic, Melbourne welcomed almost 1 million people into the central city each day.
However, pedestrian counters during the second wave revealed CBD foot traffic was down about 90 per cent compared to the same time in 2019.
Awaiting election results as the Premier’s announcement was made, incumbent Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the news was a rich reward.
“All Melbournians will welcome today’s announcement by the Premier that our city will take a major reopening step on Wednesday. Hospitality and retail can reopen safely and that means cash registers ringing and more Melburnians back to work,” she said.
“Our community has done an amazing job to slow the spread of the virus. Melbourne did what we needed to do and so did the Premier. Now it’s time to restart our economy safely to support businesses and save jobs.”
Retailers are confident that, as movement throughout the city picks up, recovery will begin.
Most of the CBD’s office workers, however, will remain at home: employers are being told if their employees can work away from the office, they must.
Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said 2020 had been a “long haul” for small and midsize retailers.
“The significant delays and setbacks, along with mounting financial concerns, have had a heavy impact on the mental health and wellbeing of this hardworking community,” he said.
“But this long-awaited opening means that a COVID-safe normalcy can finally begin to emerge in Victoria. We are pleased at this stage that there are no further retail restrictions than those which have already been communicated, most which have proven to keep shopping a safe experience. This is a point we advocated strongly for, given the exemplary safety performance of retailers throughout the pandemic.”
Mr Zahra paid tribute to the City of Melbourne’s work around making the CBD ready for a COVID-safe return.
Earlier in October Myer, in conjunction with the council, reversed the decision to cancel this year’s Christmas windows, continuing the 65-year tradition at Bourke Street Mall
The festive display would have a “very Melbourne” theme this year according to council CEO Justin Hanney.
“The Christmas Festival usually provides a $73 million economic boost for local businesses,” he said.
“This year’s Christmas Festival program will really focus on supporting the city’s retail and hospitality businesses while providing a uniquely Melbourne Christmas atmosphere and experience.
“We’re looking at ways to bring people back into the city to see decorations, light installations, enjoy festive music and other experiences to encourage Melburnians to spend in our stores and hospitality venues.”
The City of Melbourne is also set to launch its “Shop The City” campaign from November 27 to 30, which will work with the city’s major retailers and shopping precincts to promote special offers and provide marketing assistance to the city’s retail businesses.
Mr Hanney said businesses could register to take part in campaign until close of business on Wednesday, November 4.
“We are looking forward to safely welcoming shoppers back into the city for our annual Shop the City event, which will run in alignment with our Christmas Festival and Melbourne Fashion Week and correspond with major sales shopping days known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity for shoppers to take advantage of great deals while enjoying activations such as pop-up street runways, food and drink offerings, freebies and music. It’s been a tough year for retail and we are encouraging people to get behind city businesses and give them a much-needed boost over the summer and Christmas holiday period.”
“All activations will be run in a COVID-safe manner, adhering to the necessary restrictions at the time.”