“Why should shopping centres and big box retailers be allowed to remain open? We would have fewer touchpoints in the market than a shopping centre, as there’s no escalators or handrails.”
“It seems to favour one segment of the market and not others. The government needs to be more consistent.”
While many retailers at major Melbourne shopping centres have closed their stores, others, such as department store Myer, are continuing to trade, as government restrictions do not strictly prohibit them from trading.
However, foot traffic at centres such as Highpoint has declined double digits in recent weeks as lockdown measures were introduced, meaning retailers who choose to stay open will likely face significantly lower sales.
Jeff, who operates temporarily closed clothing retailer Paddington Coats at the Queen Victoria Markets, said while the Victorian government had been very supportive of small businesses through the crisis, he believes market traders should still be allowed to open if they want.
“It’s not right that people can go to Chadstone but they can’t come and shop at Queen Victoria Market,” he said. “It would be nice to have a choice to open if we wanted.”
The government’s decision is a “surprising” one for the Victoria Market’s chief executive Stan Liacos, who said he would welcome further clarity from the Department of Health on why the distinction was made.
“Markets feel far less congested and far safer to me than a shopping centre or supermarket,” he said. “It’s surprising to me shops in retail centres can open but our general merchandise retailers can’t.”
“We would welcome the opportunity to understand the [government’s] rationale so that perhaps…we can try and amend or change things.”
Merchants in Queen Victoria Market have been granted total rent relief, Mr Liacos said, as an effort to ensure they survive the coronavirus downturn, which has seen trade drop by 80 per cent since the lockdown took effect.
Ms Vandermeer said she would welcome a blanket approach by the government, saying the current situation was leading to miscommunication and confusion for retailers.
“Those big retailers getting supported by the government, they have shareholders, they’re not small family businesses,” she said. “For many of those small businesses, this is just the nail in the coffin.”
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services did not respond prior to publication.
Dominic Powell writes about the retail industry for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.