By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
TRADERS are hoping a food-led revival in central Dandenong will flow into other retailers’ pockets.
Baryalai Rahimi, of Afghan Rahimi restaurant, says council-organised food tours and festivals had helped lift the profile of the food scene.
He says workers at the nearby office buildings are queuing out the door for his restaurant’s eight-course buffet lunches – a strong contrast to the “dead street” when he opened in 2001.
He’s since successfully encouraged others to open Afghan businesses. The Thomas Street district has flourished into a lavishly streetscaped Afghan Bazaar precinct.
“Most of our customers were from nearby. Now we’re getting busloads from Geelong and Warragul coming to try Afghani food.”
Mr Rahimi said people were more assured of their safety at night in the CBD. Police patrols had helped reduce lawlessness and vandalism.
He said businesses were rebounding after the disruptive roadworks and demolitions as part of reviving the city’s heart. The new library as one part of the Revitalising Central Dandenong project has been attracting 2600 visitors a day.
Free night-time multi-deck parking in Walker and Thomas streets had helped bring in further diners.
“It’s another step to us being like a second city (to Melbourne) – a city of welcoming, a city of food, a city of culture.”
Glenys Cooper, president of the Dandenong Retail Traders Association, said the town’s “excellent restaurants” deserved to be marketed far and wide.
“We need to get people to realise there’s excellent food in Dandenong to bring them in for the day.”
Ms Cooper hoped office workers who had discovered the CBD’s diverse treats would explore further streets and businesses in Dandenong.
“When Dandenong Plaza partly re-opens in October, that should be another drawcard to get them walking about a bit more.”
She said retailers were fighting a nationwide slump in consumer spending.
“I think things have to improve. I don’t think they’ll get any worse than what we’ve gone through – we’ve already hit rock bottom.”
She said the association and Greater Dandenong Council were workshopping ideas to boost trade in the town, such as a parking strategy.
Ms Cooper said more needed to be done to deter workers and retailers hogging customer parking spots.
Ideas such as smarter parking meters, more parking on the south side of the railway station and opening the Dandenong Market car park on non-market days were helpful.
“I’m comfortable that the council understands our concerns and will resolve them.”