Not-so-sleepy North Melbourne still a small business incubator

Mitch Marks, owner of Wooly Bully in North Melbourne, says many cafe regulars seemed to work from home, often in creative industries.AS THE inexorable creep of gentrification continues in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, some residents are quick to mourn the loss of local jobs, saying franchises and chain stores squeeze out small business.

But new data shows this is not the case in the former working-class area of North Melbourne, where small businesses such as barbers, cafes, bakeries and hairdressers employ a significant number of people despite the changing demographic.

North Melbourne businesses employing fewer than 20 staff account for about 50 per cent of the area’s employment – compared with about 15 per cent of the City of Melbourne as a whole – according to a new economic report from the council.

This figure has stayed steady over the past decade.

In the past two years, employment in North Melbourne has increased by more than 400 jobs, and the council describes it as one of the city’s most dynamic and complex areas.

When Nick Downie set up his barbershop All the Kings Men five years ago, his rationale for choosing North Melbourne was simple – ”It was cheap”.

”It has changed heaps, the demographic is completely different,” Mr Downie said. ”It’s much more young people and young families, it feels more dynamic.”

Although the area’s resident population has grown by only 8 per cent in the past seven years – compared with Docklands (48 per cent) and the CBD (36 per cent) – a new planning strategy is expected to trigger a flood of commercial and mid-rise residential development.

North Melbourne resident Mitch Marks is the owner of Wooly Bully, a local vinyl record and comic book shop that doubles as a cafe, which was established in 2011.

Ms Marks said many cafe regulars seemed to work from home, often in creative industries.

”It was quite sleepy when we moved here [in 2009] – we wondered how it stayed like that when it was so close to the city,” she said.

Both business owners commented on a marked anti-business sentiment among a minority of long-time residents, with Ms Marks saying some particularly vigilant residents regularly policed patron numbers at new cafes.

But it’s not all hipsters and boutique bars – North Melbourne has long been home to a range of crisis services, including VincentCare’s Ozanam House, established 60 years ago.

VincentCare area manager Amanda Alexander said residents were generally very supportive, but as the area became more gentrified the business community was ”probably less enamoured” with some of the crisis services.

There are still a large number of poor people in North Melbourne who had housing but came to the centres for food, with more than 200 meals served a day, Ms Alexander said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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