Dandenong Market fruiterer breaks ranks on Sunday trade

By CAMERON LUCADOU-WELLS

SUNDAY trading may “break the back” of one of Dandenong Market’s most enduring fruiterers.

Dominic Pompei, of Dominic’s Fruit World, has been selling fresh fruit and vegetables for 30 years at the market, continuing a 50-year-old family tradition.

Mr Pompei works 80-hour weeks. Starting at 2am, he sources produce from Footscray wholesale market, stocks and unstocks his stalls each market day. 

From October, the market will be open an additional day on Sundays on top of Tuesday, Friday and Saturday trading. Traders won’t be charged Sunday rent for the first six months but Mr Pompei said he would “burn out” if he opened the extra day.

As a further strain, the market’s board has floated the possibility of opening four consecutive days.

“You need a break. You’re only human after all, made out of blood and bone,” Mr Pompei said. “I couldn’t do it for all the money in the world.”

His father sold fruit at the markets until he was 64 and crippled with back and shoulder problems. Mr Pompei has inherited a successful business that employs a dozen staff but doesn’t want to suffer the same afflictions.

“We’ve got a young family. My son plays soccer and another plays football – I can’t see them play because I’m working. I don’t want to lose my whole weekend.”

He and concerned fruiterers vented their frustration to Greater Dandenong council officers and market board members at a meeting last Tuesday.

Mr Pompei said other fruiterers weren’t happy with Sunday trading but most had “buckled”.

“We weren’t consulted properly. I said to the council guy they’re going to kill businesses. Slowly, slowly you’re breaking our backs.

“I just want the ratepayers to know we do something for the community. We’re in a dictatorship now – they say they’ve researched it first but I get the feeling most of the market aren’t keen on it. They can’t afford the extra day.”

On Sundays, Dominic’s Fruit World will be packed up, stalls and all, for another trader to ply their business in their lot.

Mr Pompei was dubious whether an alternative seller would install and stock their stalls with up to $15,000 of produce for five hours trade on Sundays. “What sort of person would do that?”

He expected to lose trade on the other three days if regular shoppers opted to visit on Sundays.

Mr Pompei’s comments come on top of simmering trader discontent about a lack of customer traffic and high rents. As of March, traders owed nearly $400,000 in rent arrears. 

Mr Pompei pays nearly $1000 a day in rent, up from about $80 in 1983 He believes rents are generally too high and the market was failing to attract a wide enough diversity of traders. The market is budgeting a $1.3 million return for the council in 2013-14.

Last week, the market board and the council unveilled a $463,000 strategy to reinvigorate trade, including Sunday trading.

At last Monday’s council meeting, councillors spoke of their optimism for the market’s future. 

Cr John Kelly said the strategy “talks about exciting times ahead for our market” and gave the market “direction”.

Cr Peter Brown talked up the strategy’s initiatives – such as al fresco dining in the auction area, a trolley system, night markets and the return of the Dandy Bacon pig fluoro sign. “The market should continue … injecting renewed life into central Dandenong into a very important area.”

Cr Maria Sampey, who is on the market’s board, conceded traders were concerned by the prospect of paying Sunday penalty rates.

She was confident new traders would snap up any vacant lots on Sundays. “They’re not paying rent [for the first six months] so it’s all profit.”

Market chairwoman Julie Busch did not return the Journal’s calls. 

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