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What’s UP on Chapel Street ? (2)


Pop ups are making the most of vacant shops on Chapel Street (but where are the long term tenants ?)

It’s no secret that Melbourne’s once-fabulous and famous “fashion strip” has been going through some tough times lately… Chapel Street has seen a lot of change over recent years, and not a lot of it has been positive. A few cosmetic improvements have been made by the local council and the trader’s association – but those initiatives haven’t stopped a significant number of retailers leaving the ‘strip. There’s an alarming number of spaces lying vacant now, and it seems they’re not being snapped up by new tenants – unless you count the (temporary) pop up shops…

Last week I took a long stroll along Chapel Street, noting the empty shops and For Lease signs. I was heartened to visit 7 pop up shops between Toorak Road and High Street – that’s more than I’ve seen before. It does make sense that the busiest time for retail (leading up to Christmas) should be the busiest time for pop up. And the shopping precincts of South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor are perfect for quirky pop up stores… the visitors are mostly young and curious, keen for unique purchases and adventure. Pop up shoppers will come for the experience of a short-term and high-profile event, spread the good word amongst their friends – and (hopefully) stop long enough to browse / support the neighbouring, permanent retailers too.

At popUPshops we see a lot of enquiries for pop up spaces around Melbourne – and Chapel Street is by-far the most popular destination (… the most enquiries for locations…). But finding a short-term space on Chapel Street (especially) isn’t easy – for a long while it seemed the landlords / agents / trader’s association had conspired to keep pop-up out of Chapel Street, preferring to attract long-term tenants to the strip (and maintain long-term / secure revenues). But it seems there’s been a change of attitude recently… the number (and length) of vacancies along Chapel Street may have forced a few landlords to re-think their strategies. Several months ago I was chatting with one local about a space which had been vacant for all of 2016 – and mused why wouldn’t the landlord consider short-term pop ups whilst marketing for a long-term tenant ? The fellow I spoke to said his neighbour “didn’t need the money”… Not long after that conversation the same strip (same landlord) had another shop also become vacant – and the original space has since opened its doors to a pop up retailer !

Four years ago I took another stroll along the mid-stretch of Chapel Street (between Toorak Road South Yarra and High Street Prahran) and counted 22 vacant shops – I thought that was a little alarming then (“a small forest of ‘for lease’ signs, with mail scattered across empty floors and cobwebs festooning across some doorways…”) But on my walk along the same 1.4kms last week – just days before Christmas, height of the “retail season” – I found 28 signs shouting “For Lease”, plus 5 shops sitting vacant (with no signs) – and those 7 pop up stores. That’s now a total of 40 spaces without permanent tenants

Curiously, the southern end of Chapel Street (from High Street to Dandenong Road) has seen a resurgence in recent times – it is vibrant with foot traffic and interesting characters, especially at night. Not so long ago that was the grungy end of the ‘strip, with a collection of dusty Op Shops and long-standing family businesses… but now many of those have made way for trendy cafes and bars. One trader I spoke to (a long-timer, near the corner of High Street) says he’d still like to see more day-time (retail) traffic outside his shop, and share those evening revellers with the rest of Chapel Street !

So what has happened to Melbourne’s favourite fashion precinct ? Has the nearby Chadstone mega-mall taken some shine off Chapel Street ? (Chadstone boasts 500 retailers, 10,000 parking spaces – and “20 million customers a year”*) Is this street just a casualty where on-line stores have made an impact on traditional, experiential retail ? (probably not… e-commerce only accounts for a small percentage of retail sales). Is the cost of renting space on Chapel Street too high ? Or has the “buzz” gone out of Chapel Street, offering nothing exceptional for shoppers ? It’s probably a mix of all those factors, and more…

Chapel Street does need further physical improvements, some of which have been identified and scheduled in the Chapel Street masterplan. It also needs high-profile, major events and mainstream media support… to create interest and bring the visitors back. And it might benefit from further attitude-adjustment by the clique of landlords / agents who’ve discouraged pop up retailers in the past… I believe it’s time those landlords looked a little closer at their long-term strategies, and considered that short-term pop ups may just help in the rescue of Chapel Street !


*source :





images :            Chapel Street –,

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