Spending up in Southbank, but traders say they’re still recovering post-COVID

Spending up in Southbank, but traders say they’re still recovering post-COVID
Brendan Rees

Southbank business owners have expressed their doubts about the accuracy of data that suggests spending in the area has jumped exponentially.

The economic analysis, released by the City of Melbourne in February, revealed that retail spending in Southbank East (containing the Arts Precinct) had rebounded by 151 per cent on pre-pandemic levels while dining and entertainment was up 184 per cent. 

According to the council, the inaugural “snapshot” data would be a “free tool” to help equip traders with new information about Melbourne’s economic activity “so they can make informed decisions to boost their business – from opening hours and peak staffing periods to unique offerings and services”.

However, speaking to Southbank News, business owners said while the spending figures were encouraging, they questioned their accuracy, claiming that the area had not seen the same level of recovery as the data suggested.

A Southbank pub owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he remained unconvinced the data painted a true picture of spending. 

“We’re 20 per cent down on 2019 numbers month by month,” he said.

“Speaking to other operators in this precinct, we’re all in the same boat. Some have had a bigger fall off than what we’ve had.”


Perhaps they are being very selective in the data, so maybe they’re just looking at Saturday nights – which is certainly a big improvement on 2019.


The trader said the data “cannot be factoring in” the estimated 10 to 15 per cent of shops that have closed and remain empty.

He said events and activations were key to attracting people, but it must be done midweek as weekends were busy.

Ashwyn Prabakaran, who runs 8 Miles Café in Southbank Village, said he was starting to break even after accumulating debts since the start of the pandemic. 

“You have to consider that prices have gone up for a lot of things – we do charge the customers more,” he said. “We are better than what we were doing pre-COVID. For the past two weeks it’s been really good.”

But he added, “We’re catching up on all the debts like rent and electricity and we took out some loans during COVID as well to keep our heads above water.”

Mary Martin Bookshop owner Jaye Chin-Dusting said while retail spending at Southgate had made a big improvement it had not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“Fridays in particular appear very low likely due to workers choosing to work from home leading into the weekend,” she said.

In the CBD, the snapshot, captured from October to December, showed a record $1.1 billion was spent across the city in December.

Saturdays saw the highest levels of average pedestrian activity and average daily spend, joining Friday as the two busiest days.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the snapshot would “give businesses the power to make sure they’re adjusting effectively to the new pace of our city”.

The council’s city activation portfolio lead Cr Roshena Campbell said, “City traders have told us these snapshots will help them do just that by allowing them to plan and invest with confidence.” •


Caption: Spending has jumped significantly in Southbank, according to new data.

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