Essex revival

• Photographic studio Picarda is one of the new creative businesses to open in Essex Street.

SPACEMARKET is kickstarting a revival of Essex Street with 22 small businesses and creatives moving into the ailing Fremantle strip since the turn of the year.

Situated in the old Esplanade Hotel offices, Spacemarket’s hub is now home to a thriving bunch of locals including architect Jill Birt, ceramicist Emma Lindegaard and graphic designer Ally Griffith.

“The former Esplanade offices needed a quick refurbishment, but we had all 16 offices rented and operational within a month,” Spacemarket’s Sarah Booth says.

“There’s a great demand for central, affordable space and we have a huge number of tenants – both creative and small business – waiting for affordable space to become available. 

“Throughout Covid we’ve seen no effect on demand for spaces; if anything we’ve had as many people as ever looking this past year.” 

It’s a much needed fillip for Essex Street – located at the fag-end of the Cappuccino Strip – which doesn’t get much foot traffic and is usually the first to bear the brunt of any economic downturn in Freo.


The latest casualty was Istanbul Turkish, a family-run restaurant which had been operating in the port city for about 25 years.

Ms Booth says the situation won’t change until Freo landlords change their attitude; noting some don’t even have their buildings available for rent or entertain genuine rental offers.

“It’s no mean feat to attract weekend daytrippers down Essex when there’s a vacant Hungry Jacks on one side and the vacant (but sold) Marine TAFE and Jim Kidd on the other,” she says.

“It certainly is no help to businesses like Kuld Creamery, Nunzio’s, Whisper Wine Bar or the Market Bar. Thank goodness for Little Creatures and The Esplanade that anyone walks down there at all.  

“Unless these landowners start seeing themselves as part of the community, and opening up their spaces to the community, I can’t see Essex becoming an arts and cultural hub anytime soon; unfortunately too many of the properties are locked up.”

There are however some green shoots of recovery, with gallery and photographic studio Picarda opening at 19 Essex Street in December last year.

Owner Damien Wyer has an impressive background in sports photography, previously working on the Australian PGA Golf Tour, Formula 1, and sailing and cycling races in Sydney. For the past 10 years he’s moved into landscape photography, focusing on WA’s South West.

“Essex Street was a great combination of space (260sqm) and an open floor plan that allowed the best multipurpose use I could find in Fremantle,” Mr Wyer says.

“In addition to the gallery space, we also teach in small classes from introduction to photography through to photo walks and studio shoots. We are able to host corporate events for up to 100 people with light refreshments.

“Having a large wall hanging space under museum quality lighting, we are able to exhibit from small to large collections. Our next exhibition is famed local photographer Nigel Gaunt.”

Ms Booth says Essex Street and the surrounding area has the potential to be an arts and cultural hub, with Spacemarket recently proposing a Norfolk Lane Cultural Precinct.

“Unfortunately there was no money at that time last year from the local or state government or from Minderoo to make it happen – we’ll never stop trying though,” she says.

“A huge thank you must be given to Prime West who have allowed us to undertake a Spacemarket project in the Essex Street offices – and it’s only with this type of support that Essex (read: Fremantle) will get back on its feet with regards to small business and the arts. 

“They just don’t have the capital to enter into the type of commercial lease arrangements that are currently on offer – and at 2012 prices, no less.” 



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