From bare to beautiful: empty shopfronts get a community-friendly makeover

Bare to Beautiful is breathing life back into empty store fronts with botanical decals. Image: Boroondara Council Bare to Beautiful.
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Boroondara Council is covering vacant shopfronts with locally designed floral decals to reinvigorate tired shopping strips. Rosie Mountjoy, Macy Saddington and Elizabeth Weinberg report.

A Boroondara council program aimed at promoting community growth in the wake of Covid-19, entitled Bare to Beautiful, will see empty storefronts covered with large botanical decals.

The decals, designed by local artists, will recreate flowers unique to the region to provide a homegrown touch that creates a consistent botanical theme across various shopfronts in the district.

The program launched last week as part of the council’s efforts to revitalise local shopping strips and combat graffiti.

City of Boroondara Senior Officer for Economic Development and Placemaking Alana Smith said Bare to Beautiful aimed to attract more visitors to the area and increase the time they stayed.

“[Covid-19] has definitely pre-empted a need for us to think about how to bring more vibrancy to shopping precincts to get more visitors here,” Ms Smith said.

When you’ve got vacant and defaced properties, they do impact the overall ambience of the shopping precinct, and it detracts from other businesses. It creates a perception of decline.

“The idea of this [Bare to Beautiful] is to remind locals that these are important shopping precincts, and we remind them by council investing in those areas.”

From bare to beautiful: empty shopfronts get a community-friendly makeover
An empty storefront in Burwood Village. Credit Rosie Mountjoy.

While the program may seem small, it is just one of many elements working to revitalise the Boroondara community. “I think that Bare to Beautiful is one of many pieces of the puzzle,” Ms Smith said.

“And I think it can help to reduce the likelihood of graffiti or vandalism. So, there can be a whole lot of other positive and unintended consequences as a result of what’s being done.”

Using art to fill active spaces has proven effective in multiple areas within the community, such as the Urban Smart Projects Signal Art initiative as part of the 2016 Boroondara Graffiti Management Strategy. The project painted signal boxes across Boroondara, successfully reducing vandalism in the area.

Urban Smart Projects connects local councils with local artists and estimates that 84 per cent of the integrated urban artworks remained graffiti-free for at least six years—saving councils $3000 per year in maintenance.

From bare to beautiful: empty shopfronts get a community-friendly makeover
Leopard Trees by Daniel Worth is part of the Signal Art Project collaboration between Boroondara Council and Urban Smart Projects. Image: Urban Smart Projects.

Bare to Beautiful runs as a part of a larger Economic and Tourism strategy, aiming to boost the local economy and overall liveability within the Boroondara area.

The creative initiative is based on The City of Melbourne and Renew Australia project Picture Windows designed to entice people back to the city centre. The CBD project finished in March 2021 and featured vinyl decals as external art installations across 45 vacant and for-lease shopfronts—the artworks will remain for up to six months.

Local artist Mina Wakefield said Bare to Beautiful was another fantastic way for the community to support emerging artists and struggling businesses.

“I would love to see the program expanded. If the council are open to supporting it, I think it would be great, especially for emerging artists,” she said.

From bare to beautiful: empty shopfronts get a community-friendly makeover
Swimming through the city by Oslo Davis is part of the similar Melbourne CBD art window project. Image: City of Melbourne.

The program, originally intended for the Glenferrie area only, has expanded to include other areas such as Ashburton, Kew, and Camberwell.

Ms Smith said the council would like to have had rolled out more installations by this point, however, the many Melbourne lockdowns had made the initiative more challenging for all key stakeholders.

“Life works in funny ways, so our team said let’s expand the program to wherever there’s interest and appetite.”

A plan to do four windows in late May had to be put on hold because of lockdown, she said.

Ms Smith said while lockdowns had affected new visitors for the Bare to Beautiful program, the 5km zone rule had also “forced people to shop local, which has worked well in our favour”.

“We’re aiming to get them to stay longer because when they stay longer, they tend to spend more, and a big part of our role is about supporting the local economy,” she said.

Research from demographic consultants Informed Decisions into the City of Boroondara Council’s Business trends sector showed the retail trade was the hardest hit by Covid-19, with a loss of 3057 local jobs in the September 2020 quarter.

Ms Smith said the Boroondara Council hoped the creative initiative would not only attract new customers but new tenants to the freshly decorated spaces.

“We hope that, through exposure, there will be an increase in many of these properties being rented out,” she said.

“Success to the community would look like more businesses coming into the area whilst also encouraging the growth of existing businesses.”  

From bare to beautiful: empty shopfronts get a community-friendly makeover
Local Burwood Village business owner Michael Carrafa said flowers were nice but lights were better. Picture by Rosie Mountjoy.

Support for smaller business from higher bodies has been warmly welcomed, after a period in which 47 per cent of businesses in Australia reported revenue decreases compared to the previous year, according to a 2021 ABS report.

Burwood Village business owner Michael Carrafa said any changes the council made to help businesses recover from the financial strain of lockdowns was a “step in the right direction”. However, he believed more could be done to help struggling local businesses.

“Flowers are nice, but pay businesses for neon signs and gas heaters, make it a lit up, bustling area … now that would attract business,” Mr Carrafa said.

If you make it look like a destination spot, people will come.

The Bare to Beautiful program will run to the end of August 2021, covering over 53 shopping strips with a local artist designing the decals specifically for each shopping area.

  • Story edited and with extra reporting by Nicole Henman.