Shopfront program puts Melbourne on the world map

Shopfront program puts Melbourne on the world map

A City of Melbourne initiative to help breathe new life into empty retail spaces has been hailed as one of the most successful in Australia, if not the world.

The shopfront activation program, which was launched in September 2021 in a bid to reignite the city after shopfronts were left empty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a total of 67 pop-up shops being opened, allowing budding entrepreneurs, artists and artisans a chance to test out their crafts.

“This is one of the most intensive and successful shopfront activation programs that management has been able to identify anywhere in Australia or the world,” a council report in April, which highlighted the experiences of multiple activations in the municipality, said.


Testament to the quality of the program, 38 activations were extended beyond their original tenancy agreements.


Among the success stories was This is Not a Toy Store, which sold art toys on Little Collins St for a year, before finding a home in Lygon St, Carlton.

The store began with 25 artistic suppliers and grew to almost 100 during its activation period.

 “We are overwhelmed with the success of the program and how it benefited out community because we were given the opportunity to open a shop in the CBD,” the store’s owner Cipta Croft-Cusworth said, adding the opportunity to grow their business was a “super blessing”.


“It meant that we had main street front exposure, and we were able to attract the attention of way more artists as well as international and local tourists than we ever imagined.”


“In terms sales we were amazed at just how well we did.”

Another success on Lygon St was Van Der Kooij, a women’s fashion label established to combine the two foundations of sustainability and design.

Van Der Kooij signed onto the program with three-month consecutive agreements over one year and is continuing with a month-by-month arrangement.

Natasha Veenhuizen, founder, director, and head designer of the business, said the program provided a “really great opportunity to access a new platform that has allowed for a type of connection that has been lost through COVID”.

“It has helped cultivate a deeper connection with our clients by being able to offer an intimate, in store experience,” Ms Veenhuizen said.

The council’s business and global opportunities portfolio lead Cr Kevin Louey said the activations had created “oomph” and “ambience” in precincts which had been “decimated by vacant shopfronts looking tired and unattractive and uninviting”.

“The pop-ups that have appeared in these shopfronts have created a great deal of interest and visitation with people from around Melbourne,” he said.

The shopfront activation program finished on March 31 this year with 29 activations still running including eight in the CBD, 16 in Docklands and five in Lygon St.

This was after 39 activations were created in the CBD, as well as 19 in Docklands and nine in Lygon St.

The council’s report noted the program had made it easier for businesses to navigate the marketplace and “will improve opportunities for potential tenants and speed up the process to fill vacant properties”.

“The program received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants and property representatives with 91 per cent of participants agreeing that the program was valuable to their business.”

Caption: This is Not a Toy Store on Lygon St, Carlton, is among the many successful businesses from the shopfront activation program. Photo: Alan Erpi 

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