Goodbye, Abbotsford. Hello, LoJo: The Melbourne area rebranding itself

Key points

  • LoJo takes in an area stretching from Hoddle Street to Abbotsford Convent. 
  • This weekend it will celebrate the second annual LoJo festival.
  • Local business owner Sarah Dobson said the new name reflected a cultural renaissance in the area. 

Been to LoJo lately? It’s an area of Abbotsford that’s reinventing itself to spruik its quirky personality.

Named in the spirit of New York’s SoHo district, LoJo, for lower Johnston Street, takes in an area stretching from Hoddle Street to Abbotsford Convent.

Sarah Dobson from the Altar Electric, with Jon-Lee Farrell and Brendan Kennedy from Lulie Tavern, is looking forward to the LoJo festival. Credit:Chris Hopkins

This weekend, local businesses will open their doors for the second annual LoJo festival, showcasing what they claim is fast becoming one of Melbourne’s hippest shopping and entertainment strips, Breweries, restaurants, cafes, pubs, shops and even a wedding chapel are taking part.

Business owners say locals are on board with the new nickname for the neighbourhood.

Sarah Dobson, co-owner of the Altar Electric chapel in Johnston Street, said that in the past 10 years the area has gone from being an urban wasteland of factories and empty shopfronts to a unique cultural and entertainment destination.

“It was beautiful, but it was a dead zone,” Dobson said. “There was nothing there. Bodriggy Brewery was an LPG conversion place for taxis.”

She said the cultural renaissance of LoJo had its genesis in 2005, when the community successfully fought to save Abbotsford Convent, and was bolstered in 2010 by the redevelopment of Victoria Park into a community green space.

The area had a laid-back attitude and “old school Australiana feel”, she said.

“When we moved to Abbotsford, we went to Dr Morse, and the bartender poured us a drink and said, ‘Welcome to LoJo’, and we were like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Lower Johnston – get with it.’ ”

Dobson said locals had embraced the name. “People love a nickname. It just rolls off the tongue.”

The idea for the LoJo festival came during the pandemic, when many businesses were hit hard by strict lockdowns.

“It was a way of getting patrons back into those venues that really suffered during lockdowns,” Dobson said.

Jon-Lee Farrell, co-owner of the Lulie Tavern, said he expected support for the festival and the area’s new moniker to continue to grow.

The owners of the Lulie Tavern in Johnston Street are backing LoJo. Credit:Jake Roden

“All the different businesses have always referred to this as Lower Johnston, and it has just emerged over the last few years,” he said. “It was a really sleepy, hidden spot and now there is such a diverse range of businesses doing really great things, so it is nice for it to have its own presence.”

Farrell said there was no push to officially change the area’s name, but he hoped “LoJo” would take off.

City of Yarra Mayor Claudia Nguyen said the LoJo festival would let people from the rest of Melbourne experience the bustling precinct.

“London and New York City have SoHo, and now Melbourne has LoJo – a thriving Abbotsford neighbourhood with amazing food, live music and creative expression,” she said.

Credit:Matt Golding

Over the years, nicknames and acronyms have evolved for different areas of Melbourne, with a part of Cheltenham renamed as Pennydale last year after lobbying by residents.

In Melbourne’s west, West Footscray is garnering a following as “WeFo”, with the local slow food market affectionately called the “SlowFlo WeFo Farmers Market” and the suburb spawning WeFo social media community groups.

However, not all rebranding attempts have been successful. A push to call Frankston “Funkytown” never quite caught on.

Brent Coker, a lecturer in marketing at the University of Melbourne, said it was unusual for an area to change its name for no other reason than to make itself more attractive.

“Most name changes around the world are usually because of some historical issue that is causing some sort of disgruntlement in the community, for example Moreland changing to Merri-Bek because of the link to slavery,” he said. “Rebranding is sometimes used to show civic pride and if suburbs or residents want to take control of their branding and enhance their cultural identity, then that is a good thing.”

LoJo festival is on Sunday, March 26, from 10am to 6pm.

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