While Northcote’s notorious dual-Coles situation lives on, it’s the end of the road for one of two similarly neighbouring Coles supermarkets in Coburg.
The one closest to Coburg Station – between Victoria and Waterfield streets – has closed to make way for an unlikely new tenant: Schoolhouse Studios, a boundary-pushing, inclusive arts and events hub. With the help of Moreland City Council, it was able to broker a deal with the supermarket giant.
It’s a massive win for the collective, which started small in Abbotsford in 2011 before moving to bigger Collingwood digs in 2014. “We’ve more than doubled every time we’ve moved,” says director Hollie Fifer. And this time is no different.
“The business model is this rocket that keeps evolving with the community’s wants and needs,” she goes on. “We were at 100 per cent capacity pre-Covid, we had a studio waitlist, events happening four times a week minimum.”
While there’s still a waitlist, there’ll soon be a helluva lot more space to play with.
Coles only decommissioned the supermarket recently. So, at this stage, the 3200-square-metre space is essentially just a sprawling construction site, which “I’ve been telling people is around the size of an airport hangar”, Fifer says.
In June, Schoolhouse Studios 3.0 will open with 30 artist studios – and space for an extra 22 – which can act as workspaces or retail shopfronts, or both. “If you can call it art, then we house it,” says Fifer of the cohort, which includes everyone from painters, ceramicists and sewers to photographers, graphic artists and woodworkers.
But expect to still see glimpses of the former supermarket. “We gave [Coles] a list of things we wanted to keep,” Fifers says. That included a check-out, some trolleys and a handful of fruit-and-veg scales.
The roomy loading dock will be transformed into what Fifer describes as “a bit of a dirty gig or party space” with a stage and a bar, while the trolley bays will become bike racks and the deli’s coolrooms could easily serve as soundproof recording booths. There’ll also be an indoor courtyard-like events space and a cafe (once an operator is found).
Such growth post-lockdown is miraculous, particularly for a creative collective. “Most of our tenants went through some sort of hardship last year,” says Fifer. “We offered 50 per cent rent reductions, then complete rent freezes during stage-four [lockdown].” But it’s forging on.
And while Schoolhouse has undeniably big plans already, it’s also putting the call out to the local community to help shape the mammoth project. “Whatever they need or want from this is what we want to try and deliver,” Fifer says – whether that’s what the signage or outdoor murals should look like, or how the space could be best used.
“I wondered whether doing this would feel overwhelming,” Fifer reflects. “But it doesn’t. It just feels super, super exciting.”
Schoolhouse Studios moves into the former Coles site between Victoria and Waterfield streets, Coburg, in June. In the meantime, it’s seeking community consultation and artist-studio enquiries. Get in touch here.