Since its opening in August 1970, the market has grown to become a place of strong values and traditions, and millions of people have wandered through it.
Few spaces have the power to bring back the joys of childhood with such immediacy: holding the hand of a grandfather while you melt into the hectic Saturday morning crowd, the aroma of spices and international cuisines, the scent of cheeses to be tasted on a toothpick, doughnuts with hot jam, and warm greetings from the trusty butcher and the greengrocer.
It is they – the traders, producers and customers – who have been the beating heart of the market for half a century.
“Our 50th birthday marks a huge milestone for the whole market community,” manager Gary Zoabi said.
“As Melbourne’s second-largest market, we had big plans to celebrate, however, like many things this year, some of these plans have had to take a back seat.
“One of the best ways to mark the occasion is to wish our traders a happy anniversary and smile with your eyes.
“They’re working so hard to bring essentials to our local community in incredibly challenging times.
“Join us in celebrating them with your kindness!”
In 1969, the first owner of the property, Leon Jolson, announced his plans to recreate the traditional European market in Melbourne.
“I want this market to be a place of noise and activity and when the housewife arrives back home, I want her to feel exhilarated,” he said at the time.
Since its conception, the market has flourished over the years, while always preserving its essence.
At its inauguration in 1970, the market already housed 250 stalls, including 46 greengrocers and 19 butchers.
Four decades later, in 2017, it had grown to be Melbourne’s second-largest market with around 80,000 visitors a week.
“Today, stalls at the market are owned and staffed by people from all parts of the world selling foods that resonate with their own cultures,” Zoabi said.
“Many stallholders have been here for a generation, or even three or four generations.
“We’ve seen new people joining the evolution of the market, both as traders and as shoppers, each playing a large part in developing the community atmosphere that is still considered a strong characteristic of Preston Market.”
Greengrocer Sam Virgona, who migrated to Australia from the Aeolian Islands in 1957, has been working at the market for 45 years with his stall Sam Virgona & Sons.
Over the decades, he has seen the market become a rich melting pot of cultures and has admired its exceptional and rapid development day after day.
Today, he runs the business together with his two sons, Roberto and Marco.
“I started working in the market at the age of 21 and I have wonderful memories of times long gone,” Virgona said with a hint of nostalgia.
“There were no large supermarkets like you see today and people came from all over Victoria to do their shopping.
“The market is still growing today, embracing new aspects, and I believe that the important thing is to continue to offer quality products, respecting each individual customer.
“This is the key to professional success.”
Throughout the month of August, Melburnians can virtually celebrate the market’s 50th anniversary by sharing stories, photos and recipes on its website and social channels.
The Preston Market holds a special place in the heart of the community and, after 50 years, there’s still so much more to discover!