Christmas slowly brings shoppers back into the CBD
The number of Christmas shoppers in Melbourne's CBD is down by more than a third this year, after the extended COVID-19 lockdown flushed office workers out of the city.
Normally, shops would be buzzing during lunch breaks through the working weeks leading up to Christmas. The difference this year is that Melburnians have made dedicated trips into the city on weekends instead, retailers say.
Patrick Boyle, store manager at Up There skate shop in the CBD.Credit:Wayne Taylor
At the Hill of Content bookshop on Bourke Street, it's finally busier than part-owner Diana Johnston expected even though business is still down by 50 per cent for the Christmas period.
"At this time of the year, usually it's just crazy," Ms Johnston said. "It's not nearly what it should be. I think that we're celebrating the fact that we're only 50 per cent down."
Ms Johnston, who is also a buyer for Collins Group, said she was pleased that it had picked up as much as it has after such a torrid year in the CBD.
"I think we were expecting it to be slower, being realistic," she said. "We would have loved it to come back exactly as it was last year. But we knew that there was no way it could be, not with there being so few people in the city."
Ms Johnston – who said other bookstores in the group had been doing exceptionally well, particularly in country areas – said outdoor dining had successfully brought shoppers back to the city with an "air of festivity".
City of Melbourne sensors monitoring pedestrian traffic show that shoppers are slowly returning to the Bourke Street Mall.
Last week, there were 16 per cent more pedestrians counted at the northern end of the mall compared to the week prior.
On Monday, there were still 36.4 per cent fewer shoppers in Bourke Street Mall than at the same time last year. But that's 44.3 per cent busier than the three-week average leading up to Monday.
Mykis were tapped 730,000 times in Victoria on Monday, according to Department of Transport data, which is 70 per cent of the baseline in school holidays after plummeting to 10 per cent during Melbourne's second lockdown.
Up There skate shop has piggy-backed off strong online sales for most of this year and has started to see customers return in-store just off Little Collins.
Part-owner Brendan Mitchell said adapting would allow for a "pretty good December".
ReWine is finally trading at close to normal non-Christmas levels.Credit:Jason South
"Are there as many people around? No. Are we making up for some of that stuff online – or at least in the start of the month, obviously online kind of slows down now as people won't be able to get gifts in time – but yeah, it's just different," Mr Mitchell said.
"Obviously, the city is a vastly different place to what it was a year ago, but things seem to be on the up … Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come for 2021 when some more people get back to work in the city as well."
The Christmas rush has been enough to get business back to normal at ReWine bottle-shop at the Queen Victoria Market.
"Whereas really, this week traditionally we would have been doing 150 to 200 per cent [of normal]," owner Marshall Waters said.
Marshall Waters, owner of ReWine, at the Queen Victoria Market. Credit:Jason South
At the same time, a second ReWine store in Brunswick East doubled its business between the start and end of lockdown and has held onto most of those customers.
"So that's a change of people's shopping habits," Mr Waters said.
Mr Waters has noticed a late rush this Christmas, and said there were lots of small orders rather than a few big orders. That could be a result of uncertainty during COVID-19 and a hesitance to prepare for large family get-togethers in case the pandemic threatened Christmas like it has in Sydney, he said.
Just outside the city, the Readings store in Carlton has been doing better than normal this Christmas and part-owner Mark Rubbo said customers had been eager to return.
"It's a struggle, because obviously we have to limit the number of people we can have [in store]. So at the moment there's lines outside the shops.
"But we're asking people to limit the time to make the decisions quickly so we can fit more people in."
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