What it’s like to do business in two of the world’s coolest suburbs

The corner of Church and Swan streets in Richmond.
The corner of Church and Swan streets in Richmond.

Two Australian suburbs have ranked among the coolest neighbourhoods in the world, according to TimeOut magazine, making them top choices for commercial leases.

A TimeOut survey polled 27,000 city-dwellers around the world, asking them to rank the greatest places for food, fun, culture and community.

Australia secured two places in the top 20 with Melbourne’s Richmond taking out tenth position, while Sydney’s Surry Hills ranked 19th. Both suburbs have several commonalities including a convenient location on the city fringe, a bustling food and nightlife culture, and top retail options.

Despite the many challenges that the pandemic has created, local businesses in these areas are optimistic about the future.

Surry Hills appeals to creatives

Nicola Reindorf has owned the Surry Hills clothing store, The Standard Store, on popular Crown Street for ten years and says it’s the village feel and the locals that make it a special place for shoppers.

“It’s a very urban part of Sydney so it’s close enough to the city but far enough away, and I feel like it’s a village. There’s a great sense of community we all know each other it is like being in a big urban village.”

Ms Reindorf said she has been through many highs and lows during her ownership of The Standard Store including the construction of the light rail – which resulted in less than usual foot traffic – along with the closure of the store during COVID lockdowns.

She said shop owners all came together to support one another during the last Sydney lockdown which lasted almost four months.

“We all look out for each other – there’s a rug shop down the street and during COVID they were taking polaroids of the other shop owners and we all had to say a word that described how we were feeling. Some days it was resilient, other days it was love. And they have put all those photos up on their wall and we are going to have drinks to celebrate that we have all come through the other side together.”

According to realestate.com.au, the demographic of Surry Hills is diverse with 36.1% independent youth, 33.1% maturing and established independence and 9% older independence.

The Standard Store is a popular shopping destination on Crown Street in Surry Hills. Picture: The Standard Store

Ms Reindorf said while this demographic has changed throughout the years with more young families making the suburb their home, it still has a true creative edge that spans from its roots as the rag trade hub of Sydney.

Justin Rosenberg, Colliers manager of office leasing in Sydney CBD Fringe, said Surry Hills has always been popular with creatives with many properties leased out to business owners seeking spaces with personality. However, he said it’s a highly competitive market.

“If you’re looking for a creative warehouse, Surry Hills tends to be the place you’d look first and those places are snapped up very very quickly,” he said.

According to realcommercial.com.au, search activity for commercial listings in Surry Hills was down by 31% year-on-year in October, however Mr Rosenberg anticipates increasing interest in the market as more businesses open up.

Richmond offers something for everyone

With major shopping strips including Bridge Road, Swan Street and Church Street – Richmond continues to be a popular destination for business owners seeking high foot traffic and top food and drink options.

Josh Burne is a leasing executive with Aston Commercial and has been representing property in Richmond for 10 years. He said the suburb’s commercial profile has evolved immensely throughout his career from when one of the main shopping destinations was drapery store Dimmeys.

“Bridge Road was one of the top three, or top four shopping strips in Melbourne going back 10 or 15 years, but Bridge Road has really dropped off quite significantly – I think the tram stops that were added really contributed to that which limited parking. And Swan Street wasn’t as popular, it was a lot quieter, not anywhere near as nice. Now you see venues going through renovations on Swan Street like the Richmond Club Hotel and lots of new businesses opening up around there,” Mr Burne explained.

“Church Street has also seen a lot of popular businesses open up and part of that is from the rise of Cremorne – people leaving the CBD to seek new office spaces in Cremorne. Ten years ago no one had heard of Cremorne, now people are crawling over each other to get a lease, or buy or develop in the area.”

Data from realcommercial.com.au showed search activity on commercial listings in Richmond rose by 6% over the year to October.

Daniel Vid is the owner of Swan Street bar, The Ugly Ducking, which he opened six years ago. He said Richmond is the perfect CBD alternative for food, drink and entertainment.

The Ugly Duckling in Richmond created takeaway cocktails during COVID lockdown in Melbourne. Picture: Shannon McGrath

“It’s an extension of the CBD, so we’re close to entertainment and AAMI Park so we get a lot of people who are coming and going from sporting events or concerts, we’ve also got Cremorne business district so that attracts the 9-5 workers in the area during the week which is very similar to the CBD,” Mr Vid said.

“We’ve also got people who live in the area so there are families and young people renting, so we get the best of everything.”

During Melbourne’s lengthy lockdown, Mr Vid, like many other hospitality store owners, found innovative ways to keep business afloat by designing bottled pre-mixed cocktails for delivery and takeaway, and by registering with food delivery service Providoor.

Businesses emerge from lockdown

Despite the obstacles faced by both property managers and business owners throughout lockdowns, both Richmond and Surry Hills appear to be bouncing back with customers steering away from online shopping and opting for a more local and personalised experience.

Having re-opened her doors on 11 October, Ms Reindorf said she loves having customers back in store.

“When we opened, we had our best week to date in 10 years. We had a lot of support online, but so many customers have come in store and said they are so happy to be able to come back and come inside. I really believe in it [Surry Hills] – I can see a lot of empty spaces being filled in the streets now, it’s an exciting time for the area,” she said.

There is renewed consumer activity in both Surry Hills and Richmond. Picture: realcommercial.com.au

Mr Vid echoed Ms Reindorf’s sentiments and said there’s a lot of positivity in the air.

“We’ve really seen an immediate response in people wanting to be back out, so since we’ve opened our doors we’ve been booked out every weekend.”

Mr Burne said he’s also felt a surge in activity in the rental market since lockdowns lifted, with many business owners trying to lock in deals with cheaper rents while they can.

“Since we were allowed to commence inspections again, we’ve seen a lot more activity – a lot more phone calls and enquiries,” he said.