We Check Out Swan Street’s Cool New Pop-Up Precinct

By Stephen A Russell
10th Feb 2015

It’s official. Pop-ups are now not only a constant factor in Melbourne’s thriving retail, bar and restaurant scene, but there’s also an entire industry built around them. The peeps at Pop Union, an ‘innovative activation agency,’ tasked sometime filmmaker and hospo champion, Adam Del Mastro (Auction Rooms, St Ali, Seven Seeds), to transform an abandoned bank on Richmond’s Swan Street for the 12-month down period before The Publican Group move in to create their latest classy boozer.

Inspired by the success of Rue & Co in the soon-to-be-filled gap at the top of Collins Street, Del Mastro scoured Swan Street, figuring out what made the strip tick, and what offerings it might currently lack, and the result of his diligent labour is pop-up marketplace The Swan Street Chamber of Commerce.

‘We really wanted to change the story of what the building means to Richmond and offer the suburb a whole range of things it didn’t have at the time,’ Del Mastro says. ‘For developers, it’s an incredible way to landmark a space.’

And change it they certainly have. Immediately gutting the old bank, gone is crappy, standard-issue eyesore carpet, wobbly partition walls and the glass-fronted teller counter. In their place is a bright, open ground-floor space with polished concrete floors.

Just inside the impressive double wooden doors of The Swan Street Chamber of Commerce, Pressed Juices have set up a cute corner with AstroTurf and orange crates to sell their magic elixirs, with Thrive florist in an old office space next door, next to a vertical garden display by Living Frames. Ellie Marin’s My Two Mums ice-cream food truck has set up a shack along the back wall, with the plethora of yummy flavours daubed on blue-painted clipboards. It’s within spitting distance (not that you would) of shelves packed with chocolate goodness from Monsieur Truffe.

Sharing another wall with the baked bready goodness of Fitzroy’s Rustica Sourdough, Bondi-based coffee roasters Will & Co have enlisted the aid of former Dead Man Espresso and Dukes Coffee Roasters dude Will Glover to help them dip their toes into the Melbourne scene. ‘His first job was to find a great summer pop-up to be involved in,’ Del Mastro says. Lucky for The Swan Street Chamber of Commerce, that accolade goes to them.

You can also buy lovely receptacles for your brew, with locals Cup Shop on hand. There are plans for some short-term retailers to appear for fleeting weekends, including a pair of candle makers and a zine festival. There’s even a gallery space that currently features the original, hand-drawn plans of the building that were mysteriously slipped under the front door with the mail while Pop Union were setting up.

Del Mastro says there will be a cereal cafe soon, Cereal Anytime, continuing what’s become a global trend. ‘Most of the others are celebrations about what’s bad about cereal—high sugar, low-protein—but the proprietor Brian Robertson is a physiotherapist and he’s going to have nutritionists here walking people through healthy options whilst giving them what they want.

Head out the back of The Swan Street Chamber of Commerce and there’s a rotating line-up of popular Melbourne food trucks parked up too, including Hammer & Tong and Beatbox Kitchen. While we were checking out the space, it was Vango’s first day on site, dishing up delicious prawn and pomegranate tacos, oysters and sashimi pizza served on crumbly poppadums.

Up a curving, Guggenheim-like staircase daubed with enormous turquoise letters spelling out ‘Can and Will,’ by sign-writer extraordinaire Todd Vanneste, who has leant his abilities to several Chamber of Commerce vendors, and there’s even more to love upstairs. Storm in a Teacup have set up a great tea brewing bar and shop in a bright space flooded with natural light through leadlined windows, with two big wooden share tables with dinky little stools. ‘They’re the pointy tip of speciality tea in Australia, really pushing the edge of what tea can be,’ Del Mastro says.

While you sup, you can check out Gutterhype’s pop-up record store. ‘I love the proposition of tea and records,’ Del Mastro says. ‘They have a bunch of edgy house and leftfield electronica. The ground floor is very much a retail thoroughfare; upstairs you come and spend time, sit down, drink some tea and check out some records.’

There’s also a pop-up cinema at The Swan Street Chamber of Commerce, as the Val Cinema returns to its original Richmond home in a new incarnation after cropping up all over town, with a quirky line-up of movies including Amelie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Blues Brothers.

The gorgeous space, complete with old-school popcorn machine, features original theatre seats Del Mastro sourced for Val owner, Jose Maturana, with a little help from Gumtree. ‘The seats were a great, accidental find,’ Del Mastro says. ‘They spent the last 20 years in an old church in Monbulk, in regional Victoria. These beautiful seats were reupholstered with love by a working bee every year.’

The audio-visual quality is top notch, thanks to sponsors Klipsch, Onkyo and marketing outfit 3 Degrees, who hired the projector. With so many local supports jumping on board and some of Melbourne’s coolest businesses selling their wares, is it not a little sad we’ll eventually have to say goodbye to it all in less than a year?

‘It’s like a beautiful and unique snowflake that you have to experience before it’s melted,’ Del Mastro offers, poetically. ‘Whether you’re on your way to the train station at quarter to seven or heading out to see a film at night and having an ice cream sandwich, there’s something for everyone here.’

The Swan Street Chamber of Commerce | 214 – 216 Swan Street, Richmond

Image Credits: Sabine Legrand

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