Craigieburn’s 123 Play Centre will be forced to close at the end of next week despite hundreds of parents and regular visitors campaigning to keep it open.
Business owners Anthony and Belinda Galizia opened the play centre, the only one of its kind in the area, four years ago in the Craigieburn Central shopping precinct.
The Galizia’s began negotiations with landlords, Lendlease, a year ago in anticipation of an 80 per cent rent rise on the premises – but a resolution could not be reached.
Mr Galizia told Star Weekly the rent rise would send them bankrupt within a month.
“There was almost no negotiation over the lease,” he said.
“Lendlease came to us with the rent increase and that was it … there was no negotiation.
“My counter offer was to pay $30,000 a year more than we are currently paying, but Lendlease would not budge one cent.
“We have no other choice but to close.”
Facebook posts about the closure have attracted more than 500 messages of support and prompted dozens of emails to Lendlease.
In an email seen by Star Weekly, a Craigieburn Central spokesperson said Lendlease was “continuing discussions with 123 Play Centre”.
“We value the relationships we have with our retail tenants and we want them to succeed,” the email said.
“We know that the retail environment is challenging at the moment and we’re working closely with our tenants on how we can support them.”
Long-time customer Katrina Mitropoulos said 123 Play Centre was more than just a business to the community.
“I’ve had my kids birthday parties here, there are grandparents that look after their grandchildren during the school holidays that come here,” Ms Mitropoulos said.
“Mother’s groups and even groups outside of Craigieburn as far as Kilmore, Mernda and Wallan come here.
“Where are they going to go?”
Mr Galizia said the support from the community has been overwhelming.
“We’ve always been in children’s entertainment in Craigieburn and we started this centre because we felt there was a need for one in this community,” he said.
“For an area with so many young families, you need a play centre.
“We’ve invested four years of our lives in a business that we love to then walk out worse off than when we started.
“My wife and I are extremely touched by the outpouring of private messages we have received.”
The 123 Play Centre’s last trading day is November 17.