Though the market’s recent popularity has been due in part to its growing range of evening activities, the institution took a hit over the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Without its usual number of visitors, the chief executive, Stan Liacos, decided that it was the perfect time to stage some necessary renovations to safeguard “the future of the market”.
These “necessary renovations” equate to a 40-million-dollar upgrade.
The market, which occupies 16–94 Peel Street, will be demolished, and a new three-storey building will be constructed in its place.
The new market will have a basement, dedicated entirely to storage, and a warehouse on the north side of Queen Street will be renovated to house the necessary logistics and recycling equipment.
An additional 4.5 million dollars will be spent on the renovation of the market’s dining area, which was built in the 1990s and is now considered obsolete.
The president of the ‘Friends of Queen Victoria Market Inc.’, Mary-Lou Howie, still feels an indissoluble bond with the market that was both “a playground and the place where she learned the basic rules of retail”.
Howie’s father, Hymie Kindler, was a well-known seller of women’s undergarments who operated at the market for many years.
When, in recent years, it became clear that change was imminent, Howie decided to engage the community so that Melbourne would not lose one of its oldest commercial entities.
“The Queen Victoria Market has been an exceptional starting point for thousands of migrants,” Howie said.
“My family was persecuted for being Jewish before we found a home in Australia.
“We’ve always found it to be a generous place, where the sense of community has been palpable.”
Hymie Kindler at his stall in 1960
For over 20 years, the market was extremely popular and many merchants enjoyed success, but lately, that hasn’t been the case, as “nothing has been done for the area or the sellers”.
As the renovations proceed, the ‘Friends of Queen Victoria Market Inc.’ continues to negotiate with Heritage Victoria to preserve the historical aspects of the building.
“I have nothing against change,” Howie said.
“We constantly evolve, but we must reflect on the market’s past and ensure that all renovations honour its soul.
“The Queen Victoria Market isn’t a historical artefact that should be locked up in a museum; it’s a functional commercial entity but its management system is punitive.
“Our organisation voices the concerns of hundreds of traders and – no matter what management says – I walk through the market every day and can’t ignore the sellers’ concerns.
“The fruit and vegetable traders, for example, don’t want their products to be kept underground.”
A photo from the Queen Victoria Market renovation project
Two major events were recently held at the Queen Victoria Market: The Melbourne Fashion Festival and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
The issues stemming from the hosting of these events prompted the ‘Friends of Queen Victoria Market Inc.’ to highlight the importance of the Australian Heritage Advocacy Alliance, which intends to establish new legislation to protect the commercial area and its sellers.
In recent weeks, dozens of street vendors have been forced to move their businesses to make room for large events, which have been prioritised over small businesses.
“The resources that we could utilise to protect our cultural heritage are very limited,” Howie noted.
“Institutions like the Queen Victoria Market form part of our history, tell the story of who we are.
“There’s such a profound difference when we look at countries like Italy, France and Greece, and observe how they treat their sites of historical significance.
“Over there, historical sites are sacrosanct.
“The renovation began in response to population growth, but COVID-19 has changed everything.
“The whole project needs to be stopped, reviewed and reimagined – otherwise there will be no sellers left.
“While Queen Victoria is Melbourne’s flagship market, I don’t think the bureaucrats in charge are honouring its history, or its future.”