Australia’s most famous restaurant strip is on its knees as Melbourne’s crushing coronavirus lockdown forces dozens of businesses into bankruptcy.

Lygon Street in Carlton is usually dotted with alfresco tables as diners suck down spaghetti and chew on gnocchi at the generations-old eateries of Little Italy.

The rich history includes a time when customers rubbed shoulders with gangsters who were gunned down sipping their espresso or mysteriously murdered in back rooms, as seen on Underbelly.

But now ‘for lease’ signs litter both sides of the street and where pizza or noodles were cooked up or locals updated their wardrobe are just bare floors gathering dust.

Australia’s most famous restaurant strip – Lygon Street in Carlton – is on its knees as Melbourne’s crushing coronavirus lockdown forces dozens of businesses into bankruptcy

‘For lease’ signs litter both sides of the street and where pizza or noodles were cooked up or locals updated their wardrobe are just bare floors gathering dust

A pile of disused chairs lies on the footpath where there was once a thriving alfresco dining scene

Lygon Street in Carlton is usually dotted with alfresco tables as diners suck down spaghetti and chew on gnocchi at the generations-old eateries of Little Italy (pictured before the coronavirus pandemic)

They are victims of a brutal four-month lockdown that has strangled the life out of Australia’s most vibrant food and retail scene, which may never recover.

Business owners struggling to stay afloat while their neighbours drowned say this apocalypse is unprecedented and could have been mitigated by a softer strategy.

Instead, Premier Daniel Andrews plunged Melbourne into one of the world’s harshest lockdowns and refused to open up as new cases slowed to a trickle.

Finally this week he indicated businesses may be able to reopen from Monday, a week earlier than planned, but only with strict customer limits that may not let many businesses turn a profit.

Lygon Street is now almost empty with just a few people making their way past the closed shops and shuttered windows

They are victims of a brutal four-month lockdown that has strangled the life out of Australia’s most vibrant food and retail scene, which may never recover

Business owners struggling to stay afloat while their neighbours drowned say this apocalypse is unprecedented and could have been mitigated by a softer strategy

Premier Daniel Andrews plunged Melbourne into one of the world’s harshest lockdowns and refused to open up as new cases slowed to a trickle – causing businesses to go under

A large shop is seen with a for lease sign since the previous owner picked up and left amid the coronavirus lockdown

Luca Sbardella, president of local business association Carlton Inc, said the lockdown sent many of Lygon Street’s businesses over the edge.

‘It has been quite devastating, it’s an unprecedented time for traders on this street,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

It’s very sad to see them all go and there’s nothing worse for a restaurant precinct than seeing a for lease sign. 

‘Those who are left are a resilient bunch and we’re eager so see the return of trading, we’re ready to open with a bang. None of us are going to give up. We’re going to fight to survive.’

Mr Sbardella, who owns 136-year-old King & Godfree, containing an Italian deli and two restaurants, said the pandemic was the biggest challenge the area ever faced.  

‘We’re almost 250 years old, we’ve seen two world wars and numerous recessions, and we’re still operating. This could be worse than all of them,’ he said.

Luca Sbardella, president of local business association Carlton Inc and pictured with his business partner Jamie Valmorbida at the 136-year-old King & Godfree, said the lockdown sent many of Lygon Street’s businesses over the edge

A pizza maker prepares takeaway morsels at Tiaamo 2 – all restaurants can do to eke out a living right now

Pidapipo Gelateria on Lygon St was one of few eateries with a socially-distanced line out the door

‘Lockdown has been extremely damaging, we’ve had the hardest regulations of anywhere in the world, but the last thing we want to do is have another one.

‘We just have to put on a brave face and do the best we can with what we’ve been given.’ 

Mr Sbardella said the lockdown ‘lasted too long’ and killed off many struggling shops, but at least gave him an opportunity to remodel his business and organise a good home delivery system.

He hoped Melburnians cooped up for the better part of eight months would rush to restaurants and shops when they were allowed to open, and help local businesses recover.

The sad sight of an abandoned sign showing events that would never come to pass at this now-closed business

Owners hoped Melburnians cooped up for the better part of eight months would rush to restaurants and shops when they were allowed to open, and help local businesses recover

‘Melbourne world renowned for hospitality and we really hang our hats on it. My girlfriend has spent the past three days booking restaurants online for the next month,’ he said.

‘I want to go out for a meal that I haven’t made myself or had delivered to my house in a plastic bag.’ 

He said it was fortunate that lockdown was in winter as summer was coming up where they usually made far more money, and there would hopefully be no restrictions by Christmas.

‘You’ve got all these people who’ve been sitting outside for so long so we may have one of the biggest summers ever,’ he said.



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