Wednesday 4 May 2016

Leave Our Market Alone

“Leave our market alone” is a phrase often used against our market owners and managers but I am a trader who wants to use it against the meddlers and do-gooders who don’t really understand the need for change at QVM.

Yesterdays Herald Sun reported on plans to renew the Queen Victoria Market and the online comments from individuals at the end of the article were dominated by themes like “Leave our market alone, “Don’t change what’s not broken”, or “Tell the experts to stay out of our market”. How do traders tell these people that we don’t want the market left alone, our market is broken, and we do want resources and expert advice so we can do something about it.

One of the biggest complaints you will hear from traders is that the market has been neglected for at least the last 20 years. Virtually no resources have been put back into the market other than to maintain the status quo. In the meantime the GFC and a subsequent retail revolution have taken their toll. Trader takings have dwindled, traders have left, we have big gaps in some of our aisles (A Shed) and, for many, the future is not looking very bright. Retail decline is not the fault of the owners or managers, but market neglect certainly hasn't helped.

Fortunately the City of Melbourne has seen the error in its ways and plans to spend up to $250m making us better.  They also want to grant us World Heritage status. So why do meddlers and do-gooders object? Let’s examine a few possibilities. One is that they are meddlers who like nothing better than to complain, particularly if it is a chance to have a go at city hall. Secondly they are traditionalists who want to come back to the same market, in the same way, and under the same conditions as they have for years. If all our customers were like that we would not have a problem. Unfortunately many of our customers have moved on to alternatives. They have gone to more convenient local shops or online and we need to encourage them back or find replacements. I would like to think that the biggest group simply want to support our traders and feel that preventing change will help and, let's face it, some of those changes may be unpalatable in the short term. Bless them for their concern, but unfortunately doing nothing is not the answer for QVM.

Traders don’t want drastic change. We don’t want wholesale changes to heritage buildings. We don’t want changes that make us look like another shopping centre. We don’t want anything that will work against that essential core ingredient of our market – the ingredient that makes us great – the multitude of small independent businesses. And those businesses will need special care particularly during any construction works. But we do need better facilities. We do need ways to make it easier for our customers to shop. We do need leadership in areas of store and stall presentation, trading hours, and the use of technology. We do need resources to help us become the best we can be.

We want to retain the authentic nature of the market and respect its heritage. Fortunately they are the exact words that Professor Rob Adams, the council’s city design expert, used in his presentation to a planning panel yesterday here in Melbourne. No trader is going to give QVM or the CoM the freedom to do what they want at our market without our input. But until potential options are revealed (that is expected to start next month) we are all just guessing.

It is not unreasonable for traders to respect the abilities of city designers who have made Melbourne the world’s most liveable city. We can wait eagerly for their options to renew our market and we will critically review each of those as key stakeholders at QVM. In the meantime it would be preferable for the do-gooders to stay out of the arguments and just keep on shopping at the market. That is all the support we need from them right now.

By Greg Smith