Don’t think that the irony is lost on any of the tenants of Sparta Place in Brunswick. These old garment buildings have stood empty for years, but now a keen young set of merchants and retailers is establishing the next cool strip of shops in this diverse neighbourhood of old-school traditions and eccentric ethnic trades, many using the rag trade as their modus operandi.

Probably better known for Franco Cozzo and little old nonnas fresh from a trip to Mediterranean Wholesalers, the beauty of the area is its ability to roll with the punches and adapt to change. The success of Sparta Place is that without the history it wouldn’t be half as cool as it is today; it’s an acknowledgement that there has to be respect for the old ways because only then can they be twisted to suit the new.

Arguably the most famous resident of the area is Ray’s. The veteran cafe and established provider is just over the road from Sparta Place on Victoria Street, and it laid the foundation for artists, designers and anyone who might listen to consider Brunswick their home. Access to good coffee and quality food always helps and they certainly came – or maybe they were just waiting – but when Mariana Hardwick opened her store-extraordinaire the city-side boundary needed development and she was quick to recognise the possibility and rub-off effect of associating with and encouraging new businesses.

What developed was an eclectic row of independent shop owners with an equally independent clientele. Find yourself on Sparta Place and in-between appointments at Corrin’s Hair Lounge or on the hunt for a new design at Korpus Tattoos and you’ll probably end up with an organic and ethically produced t-shirt from OKOK and a pair of earrings from Arbor Jewellery. If not already, Sparta Place will have you feeling like a local in no time at all.

Emina Dzananovic, owner and designer of OKOK, noticed the shift of artists from Gertrude Street and Flinders Lane to the large and cavernous Brunswick spaces once filled with the humming of sewing machines and hardworking seamstresses; and she recognised an opportunity. The same goes for the boys at Korpus and their achingly cool tattoo studio. Renowned artists in their own right, they’re booked out months in advance with permanent-ink inclined customers waiting for their steady hand and idiosyncratic style to come to life.

And so it should. Despite bustling Sydney Road where cars jostle for position with trams, trucks and bicycles, the patchwork paved laneway is a calm place to be and one that encourages browsing and wonder. On a nice day the seats at Tre Espresso bar are full and the passing parade a cross-section of northern Melbourne. All ages and ethnicities are represented and go about their business, the thoroughfare a perfect place to come together and pass with a friendly smile or quiet nod.

The charm is also in the buildings themselves. Thankfully devoid of the concrete tilt-slab style of so many new developments plaguing the city – a blight on designers trying to create a warm, inviting space – the bones of the strip are refurbished brick storefronts distinguished by painted façades and quaint signage. It is this diversity and respect for the past that will keep the tenants at Sparta Place in good stead. Beyond the feeling of a glorified craft market, the future of Sparta Place hangs in the balance of future tenants. It’s important that the diversity be maintained and celebrated. Aspiring young menswear designers, interesting stationers, bicycle shops and mechanics, hip charcutiers and fromagers, creative restaurateurs, quality gallerists and bookstore merchants need only apply.

The Best of Sparta Place:

Shop 16 Sparta Place
Emina Dzananovic’s basics, think an oversized navy pinstripe t-shirt or soft as a cloud hoodie of locally produced organic cotton.

Digging for Apples
18/459 Sydney Road
Mens and womenswear designer clothing including- Karen Walker, Nudie, Romance was Born, Claude Maus, TV and more.

Melody Nelson
Shop 15, Sparta Place
Specialises in boutique gifts, homewares & accessories hand-picked from local, European & US ranges. Distinct from mainstream gift shops. The perfect place to purchase that unique gift for almost any occasion.

Shop 12, Sparta Place
Amazing jewellery store with amazing independent work from local and international jewellers.

Stephen Banhams design and typography studio.

Tre Cafe
Shop 10, 459 Sydney Road
Some pretty great food and woodfired Pizza.

Shop 1, Sparta Place
Aachingly cool tattoo studio. Renowned artists in their own right, they’re booked out months in advance.

The Best of Nearby:

Ray's: A Brunswick cafe institution.
This Law: Great vintage shop.
Round & Round: Awesome record store.
Dagmar Rusette: New clothing store selling awesome local designers such as Kuwaii.
Savers: The best one in town, people travel from all over for this particular one.
Mediterranean Wholesalers: Easily one of the best supermarket in Melbourne! People come from EVERYWHERE for this.
Brunswick Bound: Best bookshop ever, think Readings back in the day.
Lots of artists studios and galleries in backstreets. Too many to name, latest edition is the Tinning Street Gallery.