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Oct 12

Will Sydney finally get street nightlife?

Palo Alto, only 45 minutes from San Francisco, is geographically in the middle of Silicon Valley. It’s also in the middle of suburbia. One natural side effect of this is that everything is dead in town by 9pm. Even on the weekends, California’s 2am last call laws (no alcohol served after 2am) means that things wind up pretty early compared to just about any other major city in the world.

Strangely, it reminds me a lot of Sydney, where everything also shuts early.

However, Sydney is not some podunk city. Sure you have the bars and clubs that open late, but outside of those haunts, there’s nothing but people roaming the streets looking for cabs and kebab joints. It’s missing the midnight mamak stalls of Malaysia, the bustling sidewalks of New York, and the never-closing stores of Hong Kong. Back in my uni days, during exam times, my flatmate and I would take a late night study break and head out to grab a bite. Unfortunately the pickings were slim – we were relegated to the 24 hour McDonald’s down the road, a kebab shop in Coogee, $3 bowls of Laksa at Star City Casino, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Woolloomooloo, and Pancakes on the Rocks. That was about it.

If this article in the SMH is anything to go by, this could now start to change:

The City of Sydney hopes to double the late-night economy’s annual turnover to $30 billion and increase after-hours jobs by 25 per cent by 2030. But, more than just economics, it is hoped that a vibrant late-night economy will mean more visitors, less alcohol-fuelled violence, an enhanced global reputation and inspired residents.

“It’s about more than whether you can get a latte beyond 11pm,” says Jess Scully, the director of Vivid Ideas. “It’s about the kind of lifestyle and city we want.” …

It would be an interesting experiment to add one thing to George Street at 11pm: open shops. Would party-goers change their behaviour? Would there be a different crowd on the footpaths? Retailers will potentially play a big part in the Sydney of the future, whether it be opening later or activating their shop fronts at night with creative lighting and pop-up events, but there are challenges.

Sydney has traditionally been a city of early risers, reflected in 9am-5pm operating hours, despite demand for shopping hours closer to Berlin’s (10am-8pm), or even our Asian neighbours, who shop until 11pm.

NSW Small Business Commissioner Yasmin King predicts that our complex system of late-night and weekend penalty rates for retail workers will hamper many shops from opening late and a review may be required. She says it will be difficult to source workers, compounded by a lack of transport options to get to and from work. The experience of some retailers, however, suggests it is possible. During Vivid, one ice-cream vendor sold twice as much at 11pm on a winter’s night as he would on a summer’s day.

On Crown Street in Surry Hills, nestled between grungy barbers, boutiques and bars, one bookshop, like many others in Sydney, stays open until 10pm on weekends. The store manager of Oscar & Friends, William Noble, says they have no trouble finding and funding staff to work nights, which is sometimes double the daytime trade. Most of the night workers use the network of bike lanes to ride to and from work. “The demand definitely makes it worth it,” he says. “We mostly get people browsing after dinner. It’s just a lovely vibe.”

Sydney’s a great city, but this is one big thing that it’s missing.

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