Fad­ing strip is as quiet as a chapel

Both ends buzzing, but dead in the mid­dle

Herald Sun - - NEWS - GENEVIEVE ALI­SON genevieve.ali­son@news.com.au ED­I­TO­RIAL, PAGE 34

IT was once Mel­bourne’s hottest shop­ping strip, but Chapel St now re­sem­bles a re­tail grave­yard, with dozens of shops clos­ing their doors as trade con­tin­ues to slump.

There are 36 shops va­cant or sport­ing “for lease” signs along the once-bustling thor­ough­fare be­tween Toorak Rd in South Yarra and Com­mer­cial Rd in Prahran.

Chapel Street Precinct As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent John Lot­ton said that while busi­ness had slowed in that stretch, the once-derelict Wind­sor end had been “re-en­livened” with a trendy din­ing and bar scene.

“They’re tar­get­ing the cool kids … the scene is bang-on for the hip­ster type,” Mr Lot­ton said of the south­ern end.

He said land­lords had been slow to move with the mar­ket and of­fer more af­ford­able leases. He said rents in Prahran were now lower than those in High St, Ar­madale — an­other pop­u­lar strip.

Store owner Di Schwartz said she was shut­ting up shop and mov­ing, af­ter more than a decade on the strip.

“Chapel St just isn’t what it used to be,” she said.

“Tourists used to come here to shop for high-end fash­ion, but it’s a dif­fer­ent mar­ket now and busi­ness isn’t good.”

Ms Schwartz said the rent for her fash­ion store was too high and foot traf­fic was al­most non-ex­is­tent.

“I love Chapel St,” she said. “We have the po­ten­tial to be great, so it’s sad to be leav­ing.”

Ms Schwartz will close her doors next week and move to the city, where trade at her three other shops is boom­ing.

Con­struc­tion work on the site of the Prahran carpark has also had an ef­fect on foot traf­fic, with re­duced park­ing avail­able.

Mr Lot­ton agreed, but said there were plenty of “blue skies ahead” to re­turn the zone to its for­mer re­tail health.

Kather­ine Samp­son, who owns pop­u­lar burger joint Hello Sam, said busi­ness north of Toorak Rd was thriv­ing.

“Chapel St has evolved over the past four years … it’s no longer just a fash­ion des­ti­na­tion,” she said.

“It’s dou­bled in size so of course, there’ll be va­can­cies. I don’t know why that area (be­tween Toorak and Com­mer­cial roads) is quiet, there’s no rea­son for it,” she said.

Ms Samp­son, who is open­ing a juice bar on Chapel St in July to com­ple­ment her burger bar, said there were huge op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses to seize some of the va­cant shop spa­ces on the strip.

“Now is the time to open up. I’ve got 20-30 spa­ces to choose from and land­lords are go­ing to of­fer very rea­son­able rent to get me in,” she said.

CHAPEL St has long been one of Mel­bourne’s trendi­est strips for shop­ping, din­ing and nightlife. But, like any precinct which takes it­self for granted or fails to prop­erly plan for the fu­ture, the lus­tre can quickly dis­ap­pear.

The South Yarra-Prahran precinct has some of the high­est-priced prop­erty in Mel­bourne — and Chapel St sits at the heart of some of the city’s most sought-af­ter post­codes.

Up-mar­ket high-rise res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments now in­creas­ingly de­fine the area, with a num­ber of ma­jor projects un­der way.

But as real es­tate prices head sky­wards, so to do com­mer­cial lease and op­er­at­ing costs.

Where carpark­ing was once freely avail­able, now ev­ery square me­tre is eyed for de­vel­op­ment. Chapel St traf­fic is of­ten a snarl, day or night.

As a re­sult, many who live out­side the area choose to shop or dine else­where.

Sud­denly, parts of Chapel St are look­ing tired and worn. Like Ly­gon St, draw­cards pay a price if they take cus­tom for granted.

Of course, both Chapel and Ly­gon streets are not only fa­mous in Mel­bourne but still favourites for sight­see­ing tourists.

But a clearer vi­sion is needed to re­ju­ve­nate and en­liven such streets and sup­port their in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter.

Ac­cess is the ma­jor chal­lenge for Chapel St, and the An­drews Gov­ern­ment should re­verse its de­ci­sion to not in­clude a new South Yarra sta­tion as part of the Mel­bourne Metro Rail Project.

The south­east rail line is one of the state’s busiest, and giv­ing Metro a di­rect route to Chapel St with a new sta­tion makes long-term sense.

Fash­ion store owner Di Schwartz (left) is leav­ing Chapel St for the CBD, where her other shops are boom­ing; and (be­low) signs of the times on the once-pop­u­lar strip. Pic­tures: DAVID CAIRD

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