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Bellair St traders express frustration as street works hurt business

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14_Bellair-St.jpg
Brendan Rees

Traders along a popular shopping strip in Kensington are reeling as street works hit heir businesses, with one describing the situation as “worse than lockdown.”

Construction started on March 28 with the City of Melbourne planning to upgrade the stormwater drainage and streetscape on Bellair St, which is expected to be completed in late June.

The council said public access to shops would be kept throughout the project, and to minimise disruption, footpath works would be completed in sections while traffic controllers would also be onsite.

But traders, who have already experienced a drop in takings, say the “timing couldn’t be worse” as they begin to rebuild their businesses after lockdowns.

Karla Mallonga, manager of Fruits of Passion café, said business was hurting with sales down by more than 50 per cent because of the disruptive works.

“I’m having a headache because of it. They should have done it over lockdown,” she told North West City News.

“Why now when we are getting business back?”

“Customers don’t want to dine out because it’s too noisy and dusty. Also, they don’t want to come in because they think the roads are blocked.”

Ms Mallonga said trade was “so low we have to cut back [on staff],” adding it was “worse than lockdown”.

“We were just thinking if we can apply for compensation, but they [the council] said we cannot.”

Annie Mulroney, owner of the White Rabbit Record Bar which she has operated for the past 17 years, said the works had been a “bit of a kick in the teeth.”

“It is definitely impacting business; it is also really filthy, dirty, dusty, and loud,” she said.

“It’s quite a mess. I have to say the timing couldn’t be any worse. We had the longest lockdown on the planet, wouldn’t you think the stormwater drains could’ve been thought about then?”

“I’m really glad it’s getting done, don’t get me wrong … but it’s such poor timing.”

Ms Mulroney said she had lost 20 seats in outdoor dining and while she and her staff still put the furniture outside, “we have to keep cleaning it because it’s covered in dust in no time.”

However, she said they were lucky enough to have a rear beer garden “so people can escape from the dust and the noise”, but “if people don’t know about that they would probably walk or drive right past us.”

Tushar Bhatnagar, co-owner of The Premises café, said his outdoor dining setup had been taken away completely.

“I am glad they are doing this work … I’m just not too sure why they didn’t do it in the pandemic while there was no sitting at all,” he said.

He said customers who would normally dine-in were “actually just picking up takeaway and they’re leaving.”

“No one wants to sit with a lot of construction noise happening and something out of our control.”

“I’m just hoping they are able to finish this sooner than they anticipate.”

Mr Bhatnagar said he had also spoken to some businesses on Macaulay St who relied on parking in Bellair St with “a lot of people are not coming to their shops either.”

“We’re planning to write a letter together to the council and maybe ask for a little help, if possible, in any form.”

Natalie Ragusa, owner of Aerial Studio Kensington, said, “It’s obviously annoying because parking is a struggle for my clients, and it’s loud and not relaxing.”

The City of Melbourne said the project would see the installation of new stormwater pits and pipework, as well as the repositioning of kerbing and the reconstruction of the footpath, while preserving heritage mosaics. 

It said businesses were notified of the works in February, with another notification going out in March, however, the council did not respond to questions as to whether traders would be compensated.

“Renewal projects are an essential part of the City of Melbourne’s work to maintain the city, ensure health and safety and improve amenity,” a spokesperson said •

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