Getting back to business after COVID

Getting back to business after COVID
Rhonda Dredge

There have been some pluses and minuses for the small community of local businesses in Kensington as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the two bed and breakfast places in picturesque McConnell St has closed.

But Wayward Books, the bookshop in Bellair St, has expanded its range of titles.

The bed and breakfast at 112 McConnell St sold in December for $1.33 million with few people travelling to the suburb. 

One cottage, at number 97, is still available for short stays, and for adventurers who want to cross town it is a handy place for discovering new places within the city.

“It’s been a quiet 12 months,” B&B owner Robena Binks said. “We’ve just seen some of the regulars from interstate.”

Their guests are families of locals, mostly grandparents. “Their houses are too small or they have a child so their families stay when they visit,” she said.

But since the restrictions on travel during the COVID-19 crisis there have been few enquiries. 

She said they used to get more custom when there were events at the saleyards and racecourse but they don’t get many Victorians now.

Kensington has one of the most intact communities in Melbourne in terms of helping each other out and historic streetscapes. 

“It’s a pretty little neck of the woods,” Robena said. “We love it. Most of the businesses are locally owned.”

Jo Wearing is a resident of Bellair St, and she said that most people walking in the street lived in Kensington. “I usually nod,” she said.

“Kensington is more down-to-earth than other suburbs because there’s such a mix of people. It keeps it real. There’s high-rise across the road and houses worth $4 million.”

When the pandemic hit, residents supported local business. Wayward Books in Bellair St stocked mostly second-hand books but proprietor Judy Collings noticed that if she put new titles in the window people would order them through the shop.

“I’m getting more new stuff in now,” she told North West City News but she still displays her famous pithy quotes in the window, including encouraging postcards about famous authors and their more menial day jobs. 

She’s currently running a competition with a free book for the person who can name where the following passage comes from.

“It is difficult not to be bedazzled by a cast that includes ulcerated Christian holy men, Zoroastrian priests obsessed with dental hygiene, demonic emperors, barbarians with self-inflicted cranial deformities and Arab ambassadors stinking of camel.”

She said Kensington was a creative suburb with artist studios, a ukulele group that met in the park and its own writers, particularly in poetry, history and politics. 

You can go along, and they’ll teach you how to play, Judy said. “Fie, the ukulele man, does it for free.” •

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