Businesses connect and collaborate in the city’s north 

3 April 2023

It’s all happening in the north of our city. Meet Melbourne City North Business Association President, Christina Zhao to get a taste of what the buzz is all about. 

When lockdowns forced the closure of the company she was working for, former Melbourne international student Christina Zhao booked a ticket to China to pursue an opportunity back home. 

A day before farewelling Melbourne, she had a lingering feeling that the time in her adopted hometown wasn’t up just yet. 

“After almost a decade learning from and giving back to this city, I remember being up all night, surrounded by my suitcases, knowing there was more work for me to do here,” Christina said.

“I called my employers in China that morning and told them I was going to stay on and give it a few more months.” 

She’s now President of Melbourne City North Business Precinct Association, one of two new groups funded as part of the City of Melbourne’s Precinct Activation Fund.  

Christina is using the connections and experiences she formed here as a student, as well as those working in a local university and international arts organisation, to connect businesses in the blossoming northern precinct of our city. 

A close-up of a person in a white suit jacket. The person is smiling.
President of Melbourne City North Business Association President, Christina Zhao

“I’d already been working closely with local businesses as part of my role at entertainment company, Mahua FunAge. 

“Everyone was doing it so tough through the pandemic so I offered to help out where I could, volunteering to assist mostly local Chinese businesses with translating government support options. 

“When the opportunity presented itself to establish a new business association precinct, it seemed like the perfect alignment of my skills, connections and experiences.” 

After being elected president, it didn’t take long for Christina to sign 30 businesses in the first month. 

“I’d already built their trust throughout the pandemic, so they knew I would do whatever I could to support them once restrictions lifted.” 

For Christina – who has a marketing and PR background – it has been a rewarding, if not incredibly busy role, which she juggles alongside being Founder and Managing Director of MAP PR and Events. 

“During lockdowns it was all about helping our businesses apply for support, making sure they knew what was out there and connecting them with council initiatives like outdoor dining, rental relief, and shopfront activation opportunities. 

“Now it’s about bringing everyone together, celebrating the city’s new rhythm and strengthening those community connections formed over lockdowns.”

By the end of its first year, the City North group had grown to 59 businesses, including those from our city’s three biggest retail malls – QV, Melbourne Central and Emporium. 

In two short years, they have collaborated to deliver a number of events including: 

  • a basketball dunking competition with RMIT and South East Melbourne Phoenix NBL team
  • a workshop on implementing the Victorian Government’s single use plastic ban 
  • and, most recently, the Little Korea festival in December and Tastes of Asia festival in March. 
Four people inside a white marquee tent cooking food. They are smiling.
Vendors at the Taste of Asia festival, organised by the Melbourne City North Business Association

The association also regularly gives back to the community, and generously donated more than 1300 vouchers to businesses in their precinct for an international student welcome and networking night at The Couch. 

“Christina and her team want to do the best for City North businesses,” said Emily Zhou, Managing Director at Panda Hot Pot. 

“With 80 members now, we’re gaining a lot of momentum and more and more people want to sign up and capitalise on the collective support.” 

“There’s a real sense of comradery among the businesses, especially following such a difficult trading period,” Christina said. 

“It’s all about creating business connection rather than competition. We’re stronger in numbers and it’s wonderful to see all the members having a forum to come together, share resources and achievements so that others can also thrive.” 

The precinct encompasses a university campus, and a number of experimental and Instagrammable hospitality ventures. 

“We’re really establishing ourselves as an exciting foodie destination, filled with the energy of local students, backpackers and visitors. It’s a really electric part of the city.” 

A group of eight people smiling and standing in line inside a store.
Melbourne City North Association Business Precinct members at their annual AGM

For Christina, the story has come full circle.  

She’s now employing local and international student volunteers for City North events and using her connections to find them work and work experience with association members. 

“Being an international student in Melbourne opened up so many worlds and opportunities for me. It’s really why I’m here today doing what I’m doing. 

“I’m so glad I didn’t get on that plane back in 2021, and I’m so proud to be contributing to this city and working with local traders to build a strong business community in City North.” 

Each of the City of Melbourne’s 10 supported business precinct associations were awarded $100,000 to revitalise following the impacts of the pandemic. Funding for this program was made available by the Victorian Government through the Melbourne City Recovery Fund.

The Business Precinct Program 2021–25 provides annual financial support of up to $120,000 to recognised precinct trader associations representing businesses in consumer-relevant areas of the municipality. Applications close Wednesday 26 April.

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