Nik Bulum is credited with transforming Braddon’s Lonsdale Street from a grungy strip filled with car yards and empty buildings into a buzzing city hub.
He is the founder of Lonsdale Street Traders, founder and owner of Unit Concepts and creative director at Bulum Group, which is the property development company behind Braddon developments Ori and Palko.
“When you do what you love, it’s exciting, especially when you get great responses from people on the street and visitors to Canberra. It’s totally different to 10 years ago when people used to say Canberra was boring,” he says.
“Now the same people come to Canberra and say that they love walking down Lonsdale Street and seeing the energy and people doing things differently. It’s raw, it’s fresh and it’s fun.”
But while he loves what Lonsdale Street has become, Nik wasn’t always enamoured by the area. He reluctantly returned to Canberra from Sydney a decade ago and describes the Canberra of the time as “clean and sterile”.
“My Dad [builder Ivan Bulum] had a building on Lonsdale Street and the area was horrible. It was empty, all of the buildings were for lease, and I thought, this is a great strip. It’s close to the city and there’s a beautiful park at the other end. It should have restaurants and galleries and shops,” he says.
Inspired, he and two others opened retail stores on Lonsdale Street and tried unusual tactics to attract shoppers.
“We’d give out free champagne, we bought a bubble machine and let bubbles flow down the street on Saturdays. We’d sit on banana lounges with wigs. We tried everything to be noticed, and the mechanics would look at us like weirdos. But you know what? It worked. That buzz that we created inspired other people like us and it became a little infection and started spreading,” he says.
He hopes that this “infection” continues to spread down Lonsdale Street, past Gus’ Café and into the Sydney Building.
“The last thing we want is a city that’s a big mall.”
Nik’s favourite Braddon restaurants include eightysix, the newly opened Eighty/Twenty and Italian & Sons. Apart from Braddon, Nik is also a fan of New Acton, which he says “was pretty much just dead space and now they’ve made something beautiful”.
If he were chief minister, Nik would prioritise supporting small, local businesses instead of encouraging retail giants like IKEA to take up residence in the capital.
He’d also allow property developers more creative freedom when it comes to building design, give Canberra an international airport and scrap the Capital Metro light rail project in favour of a bullet train running between Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.
Instead of placing residential developments on Lake Burley Griffin, Nik says he would make the area an international tourist destination with lots of public spaces.
“The lake is kind of like the Central Park of Canberra, so why would we build it up with apartments and block that space out to the public? Why not put in a world-class casino and a theatre, and attract international artists?
“People from the coast and the country are jumping to Sydney or Melbourne. We do that too. We could make Canberra that destination instead,” he says.