Can we talk about Lonsdale Street Traders without using the ‘H’ word?

Braddon, 1950s

My partner’s dad, my son’s grandfather, lived on Lonsdale Street as a child. His dad was a body builder (as in car bodies, not gym bodies) and Braddon being the industrial hub for all thing auto, he worked in garage there while the family lived upstairs.

Earlier this year I was working at a shop on Lonsdale Street and we got talking about it one night, discovering it was pretty much situated at the same address that was his former home. He hadn’t been there in years, decades perhaps, and I tried to explain what Braddon was like now. I explained that there were a lot of new apartment blocks going up and that even the building housing the shop I was working in was to be demolished shortly. He wondered out loud what was wrong with all the original buildings and his face soured with disappointment as he realised he wouldn’t recognise much of the street any more. We talked about something else.

In 2012 Braddon is the suburb that everyone is talking about. For some it’s because it somehow found its way onto a list of hippest suburbs in the country. For others it’s because there’s a truckload of real estate being flogged there, and for the rest it’s because of Lonsdale Street Traders.

For those reading from under a rock or elsewhere, Lonsdale Street Traders is the reincarnation of a former tyre store (a fitting nod to the street’s greaser heritage) into a sort of mini mall for independent boutiques and businesses. The greater warehouse of the original building has been sectioned into small spaces, capsule stores with a central spill-out area, each tenanted by a diverse array of creative Canberran entrepreneurs.

The place has only been officially open a week and already I love going there. But for one of the most interesting and promising inner-city developments in my living memory there’s so far not much of any substance being said about it. That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten attention. In brief, the Canberra Times has it covered with: ‘Braddon’s trendy traders open doors officially‘, and ‘Trasformation into a hipster hangout‘, while online Her Canberra writes “The launch of the precinct only strengthens Braddon’s claim of being Canberra’s hippest suburb – this place is so cool it hurts.”

And that’s all very well and good. But what if the Traders isn’t simply the hip young cool young trendy young hipster hispter hipster youth fad that everyone is stating and is actually the first workable solution to the crush on creative industry and independent business in Canberra, regardless of anyone’s age, lifestyle or apparent subcultural leanings? What if this sort of model is Canberra’s answer to what Renew is to Newcastle, applicable to our unique challenges? Would it be possible to ditch the dorky headlines, take ourselves seriously for a moment and look at why this project is potentially so important for Canberra’s CBD? Creative, enterprising folk setting up their own businesses and opening up shops in the city shouldn’t be a novelty, trendy or hipster, shopping outside of the mall shouldn’t be seen as ‘quirky’. The fact that it has become so is something I think we should be talking more about.

 

3 Comments

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  1. Great post.
    Its words like hipster that really put a dampener on the creativity and enthusiasm that this kind of space can bring. You are right, this is exactly what Canberra needs as a bench-mark for independent business. While the upper bourgeois are still profiting out of this, at least a chance has been opened to the less wealthy demographics. The question really is what happens when these people are suddenly given the boot?

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  2. Hear hear. I think it’s great for these small, brilliant, quirky, brave, creative, independent shops – who probably couldn’t afford the cost of rent on their own and would remain an online business only – to get together to support each other. I am going to show my appreciation and support by doing all my Christmas shopping there. Good luck to all of them, and I hope the business model is copied elsewhere.

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  3. Thanks! Only hours after writing this I picked up the latest edition of BMA Magazine to read some of Glen Martin’s thoughts on this very subject.
    Glen writes: “Braddon has gone from the little Melbourne that could to the little suburb enjoying its moment in the sun before the vast apartment structures either side of Lonsdale Street threaten to obscure that sun and ruin this moment of grace for all time. I’m 100%, more even, 120% for urban infill and more people living in apartments in the city”…”But what Braddon has stumbled upon is something rare – actual, accidental character. The auto shops and Centrelink nuzzling against some pretty fine caffeine merchants and the lovely market atmosphere of the Traders’ building create a genuine urban experience, something notable in our planned and coiffed city. Will further development enhance or ruin? Bringing another 1000 souls into the suburb will create a buzz and that’s a great thing. But we hope that the development will be handled with a view to what is good about the place – the mix. For now, we’ve enjoyed Braddon 2012. Long may it remain varied, slightly ugly and full of treasures.”
    Read his 2012 in review article here: http://www.bmamag.com/articles/exhibitionist/20121204-danish-crime-tv-op-ed/

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