Business owners in the Victorian capital’s once-busy suburbs are putting on a brave face, but they need these lockdowns to work.

From Carlton to St Kilda to Prahran, the suburban centres of this city that hum with the daily pulse of food, fashion and professional services have been plunged again into dark uncertainty, with a lockdown that threatens the business and livelihoods of many. This time, the excitement of Melbourne’s first lockdown is also absent.
The bare branches of the plane trees on Melbourne’s Lygon Street mimic the empty streets below.  Tash Sorensen
There’s a sense of quiet desperate hope among business owners. Their brave faces mask very real fears that if these restrictions fail to curb the virus, they could be plunged into economic ruin.
“Today’s been horrific,” says Nick Andriotakis, owner of Europa The European Cake shop on St Kilda’s Acland Street.
Revenue has slumped 90 per cent since the lockdowns were implemented and in hindsight, Andriotakis wishes the state government had of implemented harsher restrictions sooner.
St Kilda is usually bustling with tourists, now it’s only locals. Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images
“I’ve had to lay off staff,” he says.
The pandemic has also exposed the fraying threads of the trendy suburbs underbelly.
“Theres a lot of people battling in St Kilda with homelessness and thats become more prevalent. You see it a little bit more, probably because theres a lot less people around, so it becomes a bit more apparent,” says Mark Filippelli, co-owner of Matcha Mylkbar.
Chapel St was eerily quiet on Thursday. Joe Armao
Down a 100-metre stretch of Acland St on Thursday lunchtime business owners and the dozen or so people buying coffees or groceries pause to witness three men argue, with two accusing the other of being a snitch a police informer while 30 metres along an ambulance is called for a homeless local resident collapsed on the ground, struggling to regain consciousness.
Down the road, Raquel, who works in a local vegetarian cafe and declines to give her surname, says the cafe is used to slower business in winter, but since COVID-19 her hours have been reduced and she says JobKeeper has been a blessing.
Online orders have surged: King & Godfree general manager Jono Armao. Tash Sorensen
There are at least three police cars pulled up in the area, one unmarked, which stops a late 20-something woman out walking without a mask but she has paperwork stating she is exempt for medical reasons.
In the little grassy patch near Luna Park’s scenic railway, a local worker pauses to sip a coffee, his only company the 50 seagulls that eye him closely, wondering why their local feeding source has emptied.
Filippelli says his cafe had been able to stay open thanks to government support programs like JobKeeper, but its casual staff had been unable to access these payments and many of its employees on foreign visas had been forced to return home.
In Carlton, Jono Armao, the general manager of King & Godfree, a boutique grocery business owned by the Rich List Valmorbida family, said online orders surged on Monday, the day after Premier Daniel Andrews announced the stage-four restrictions.
The business that was doing 50-50 online and in-person sales shifted this week to two-thirds online.
“I did 18 deliveries on Monday last week. This week it was 32,” Armao says.
The best-selling items online from the upmarket food store are ready-made lasagne and gnocchi and alcohol.
Heartattack and Vine co-owner Matt Roberts is now delivering coffee by bicycle. Tash Sorensen
“Alcohol sales are up by one-third to a half,” he says.
Businesses are adapting as best they can. On Chapel Street in South Yarra, owner of popular cafe Abacus Bar & Kitchen, Dylan Whitmore, describes foot traffic on Thursday as “pretty much non-existent”. He’s started selling plants as an extra revenue source, having turned its food waste into compost.
Matt Roberts, the co-owner of Carlton’s Heart Attack and Vine cafe-restaurant says the rule keeping people within 5km of their homes has hit his business “a little” but not greatly, as 80 per cent of his customers live within a 5km radius.
Roberts would know he’s taken to delivering even coffee by bicycle to customers. The trick to keeping it warm, he says, is a layer of plastic wrap over the edge of the cup and beneath the hard plastic cap.
But Roberts says that having reopened on Sundays, this weekend will be the test of whether there’s enough trade to keep open on a Sunday.
“This weekend will be the [test] for how the next six weeks will go,” he says.