Like a beautiful woman fallen on hard times, the section of Fitzroy Street between Grey and Acland Streets had been a haven for book lovers, gourmet restaurants, latte drinkers, tourists, and of course, us locals. Forming a boundary between east and west St Kilda, divergent and multi-cultural, strolling her pavements was both interesting and joyous.
Alas, in an attempt to discourage traffic, a separate bicycle path was added, reducing two car lanes to one. Twice daily this street comes close to gridlock. In better times, owners demanded astronomical rents. When those disappeared, shopfronts emptied. Some became long-term vacancies, others were briefly picked up, but then failed. Where a wonderful bookshop blossomed, the ‘for lease’ sign is at least six years old. Rumour has it that the newsagent’s days are numbered. The Gatwick Hotel needs police intervention when anger spills onto the street. Gutters are littered with cigarette butts and used food containers. The local supermarket attracts too many shoplifters.
However, all is not lost. There’s the free food wagon on the corner of Loch Street; ‘Cacao’, my favourite meeting cum working café; and when I can’t be bothered to cook, the chicken, vegetarian and pizza take-outs. ‘The Prince of Wales’ still attracts drinkers, and though ‘Tolarno’s’ has sadly packed its bags. ‘Leo’s’, and ‘Café de Stasio’ still hang in there.
I mourn the loss of this happy walk, and hope that one day the lady will be restored to her rightful place.