We need to embrace change to protect the Queen Vic Market

As I do my daily walk around the sheds and halls of Queen Victoria Market, the signs of a returning to pre-COVID vibrancy are everywhere: the queues of hungry shoppers lining up at the top of H Shed to get their obligatory doughnut; the smell of fresh seafood floating across the crowds in the Meat and Fish Hall.

As the city has comeback to life after a dark two years of anxiety and restrictions, so too has its favourite destination. Once again, the market is firmly embedded in the weekly routines of people from across the city.

Customers shopping at Queen Victoria Market.Credit:Getty Images

While it’s heartening to see the market and its 600-plus traders on the road to recovery, the challenges faced during the pandemic also highlight the importance of ensuring this rediscovered vitality is nurtured in the long term. If this experience has shown us anything, it’s that the city needs a thriving Queen Vic Market to help lead it into a new period of recovery and prosperity.

Even before we were hit with COVID-19, there has been an often-robust community conversation about the best way to protect and enhance the southern hemisphere’s largest open-air market. Some voices have viewed proposed changes with deep suspicion, believing the market should stay just as it is forever. Others have thrown their support behind proposals to modernise the market’s operations, while protecting its heritage.

Opinions may differ about the best way forward, but I see the passion in the various debates as a cause for optimism. It’s a sign that, in a city of market lovers, no Melbourne marketplace is more loved than the Queen Vic.

The truth is that over its almost 150-year history, the market has always evolved to meet the needs of traders, shoppers and other visitors. This constant movement forward has seen market sheds become lavish halls; horses and carts have been replaced by trucks and forklifts. Sections reserved for local haberdashery have made way for stalls filled with colourful goods from around the world. The market has never stood still.

An artist’s drawing of the City of Melbourne’s Munro development.

The good news for the communities that rely on the market today is that much of the overdue work to bring its operations into the 21st century is now underway.

The City of Melbourne’s $250 million renewal program makes up the bulk of the new investment in the fabric of the market. This extensive program includes the painstaking restoration of the market sheds, and a significant upgrade to the market’s Food Hall which is currently in progress. It will also lead to one of the most exciting aspects of this current scope of works – the transformation of the market’s car park into community open space.

Importantly, these improvements will enable the market to work with traders and attract new innovative businesses, which will in turn help the market host a more diverse mix of offerings, appealing to a wider range of people.

And while these capital works are the most visible aspect of the changes, there are a range of other upgrades – many touching on improving the shopper and visitor experience – that will help the market appeal to more people from different walks of life and make it a better place to work and do business.

These efforts represent a once-in-a-generation chance to evolve the market to meet the changed needs of traders and the broader community, while at the same time ensuring the things we all love about the market – the heritage buildings, rich sights and smells, the diverse array of cheap and fresh food – endure for another 150 years and beyond.

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