By Shane Scanlan
Generational businesses are walking away from the Queen Victoria Market (QVM), accusing the City of Melbourne of duplicity and bad faith.
They believe the council is deliberately killing the market and their businesses to ensure no compensation is payable under a redeveloped model, which does not include them.
They say that some businesses, which a few years ago were worth up to $1 million, are now worthless because of high levels of vacancy and that this suits the council’s ambition to gentrify and downsize the iconic open-air venue.
Storage facilities operators Ben and Ryan Moulton and Hanan Mark blame Lord Mayor Robert Doyle who, they say, has deliberately misconstrued a plea they made for help about five years ago.
“Our problems related to the way the market was being run and promoted,” Mr Mark said. “The management was destroying the place. They have no retail experience, no business plan and no idea how to run a market. Walk through and see for yourself.”
Mr Mark said their invitation for council intervention had backfired horribly and it now appeared apparent that “old school” traders were not part of the vision for a redeveloped market.
“Doyle despises this market. He told us that the only people who shop at the market are a bunch of bogans,” Ben Moulton said.
The traders acknowledge that retail consumer taste had evolved over time but sound market management was all that was required to fix their problems.
“Out-dated, restrictive licence practices affecting our competitiveness are not the answer. We hope that our new CEO, who has marketing retail experience, will be given free reign,” Mr Mark said.
“Now we’ve got an imaginary figure of $250 million redevelopment proposal which will result in a smaller market which will limit the number of family businesses.”
Ryan Moulton said: “Look what we’ve got here. The biggest open-air market in the southern hemisphere. It doesn’t need $250 million to fix this.”
Queen Victoria Market Advisory Committee trader representative Greg Smith takes a contrary view. Mr Smith said the market’s problems were widely acknowledged but a good outcome was only going to be derived by traders and management working together.
He said the request to Cr Doyle was that the millions of dollars being remitted to the City of Melbourne each year be re-invested in the future of the market.
“Since then the council has decided to put the rents it collects back into the renewal fund,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith said the major reason for the decline of the market was a global retail revolution as well as a recession in the sector.
“It’s unfair to lay the blame for the decline of the market at the feet of management or the City of Melbourne,” he said. Mr Smith did admit, however, that the change in council’s attitude had come too late.
He also said he had not detected any intention to move the focus of the market away from small businesses.
Terry and Betty Jennings, however, say that bad management has ruined the market.
“It’s a disaster,” Mr Jenning said. “It used to be completely full and there was a list of 50 or 60 casuals in case one the permanents couldn’t come in.”
Mr Jennings said stall-holders leaving the market was now a weekly occurrence.
Mr Mark estimated that 131 stalls were vacant on Tuesdays, 146 were empty on Thursdays, 221 on Fridays and the weekends were even worse when up to 200 stalls could be unoccupied.
He said leases were only offered for 12 months and market management was unnecessarily prescriptive about what could be sold and where.
One trader who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals said management sought to reduce competition amongst stall-holders.
“We want competition. It’s competition which brings people here. It’s what this place is all about,” she said.
The traders are also resentful that their fees are used to advertise and subsidise the annual night-markets.
The City of Melbourne spokesperson said: “Renewal of the Queen Victoria Market precinct will help secure a long-term future for market trading and continue to provide a supportive environment for small business.”
“We understand that there are many and varied views about the future of the market and we are working closely with all operators.”
“The vast majority of traders and operators support the redevelopment of the Queen Victoria Market precinct and are well aware that we are working to improve the trader, customer and visitor experience through this project. The City of Melbourne and QVM management are committed to a strong, vibrant and attractive market now and into the future. Improvements to storage are among planned upgrades to trader facilities.”