Market Traders in Il Globo
Life in lockdown and future plans: the stories of traders at the Queen Victoria Market
By Benedetta Ferrara / Laura Egan
Published June 18, 2021
The largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere, the Queen Victoria Market is a Melbourne icon.
Over the past 143 years, millions of customers have meandered through the market and, despite this unprecedented chapter in history, it continues to boast the ability to immediately bring back fond childhood memories: holding your grandfather’s hand as you navigate the crowd; greeting the trusty butcher and greengrocer; the sweet taste of hot jam donuts and the irresistible aroma of cheese.
And behind the counter, ready to welcome customers with a smile, are the traders – the heart and soul of the market.
Passed down from generation to generation, Berries Corner is a colourful space dedicated to the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables.
After years, the business continues to attract hundreds of customers every day.
Pasquale Vitalone was raised on the sounds and smells of the market, helping to man the stall of his Calabrian father as a child.
Today he runs the business with his wife Belinda.
“The response from customers has always been extraordinary, and thanks to them we’re still able to work full time,” he said.
“With the lockdown we simply had to put the business online; we had to change and become modern!
“We have a website and we’re on Queen Victoria Market Online.”
The couple stressed the importance of supporting the market and, subsequently, local farmers.
“It’s nice to see the new generations at the market on Saturday mornings,” Belinda said.
Similarly, for Fiona and Luigi Macali, there is no greater joy than keeping alive the contact with customers, who continue to support them by purchasing online and in person.
“We’ve got one customer and he buys one thing every day so he has a reason to come – one day he comes for parmigiano, the next day for ham,” they said.
“He simply likes to be at the market.”
Born in Australia to a family originally from the Rome area, Luigi worked as a computer scientist.
He and his wife Fiona, who has many years of experience at the Queen Victoria Market, shared a single dream: to recreate the typical atmosphere of a small, family-run delicatessen.
Around five years ago, the long-awaited opportunity presented itself and they established The Epicurean where, from behind the marble shelves and art deco design, refined foods, cold cuts and cheeses are sold for every occasion.
“Some of the food that we introduced really represents what Luigi’s family had – we sell lupini, for example, because his mum and dad introduced them to family, during the evenings together,” Fiona said.
“We offer a great variety of products because we want to create a bond with our customers; for us it’s a joy and a gift to give this food to people.”
The couple had a great deal of support from customers during the lockdown and managed to keep all of their staff employed.
“For us, the main goal was for them to still have their job, pay the bills and look after themselves,” Fiona said.
“Our customers are fantastic – they come to the market even during the coldest days and, if they can’t, they buy online.”
For restaurant veterans Carla Mammone and Joe Vitale, however, last year presented the challenge of running a new business, Cafe Gilli, in the face of a pandemic and the restrictions that came with it.
Already the owners of several businesses, including Cafe Verona, located in the market’s food hall since its opening, the pair decided to establish an Italian bar last November.
Cafe Gilli offers roasted coffee, delicious breakfast dishes and a wide range of freshly baked traditional pastries.
“Unfortunately, takeaway didn’t work due to the five-kilometre radius, and there was no one around,” they said.
“The food court has always relied on tourists and international students; without them, it’s probably still down at 60 per cent and struggling to recover.
“It was starting to build up during the weekends again, but then we had to shut down again.”
Born in Genoa and Ragusa respectively, Carla and Joe both migrated to Australia as children with their families.
Hospitality runs in their blood; Joe’s parents are the founders and original owners of the renowned San Remo Ballroom.
The duo hope to resume business without any more abrupt interruptions.
“We also expect big changes with the renewal plans of the market,” they concluded.
“It needs to be restructured and it definitely needs an update.”