The boundary between Fitzroy and Collingwood, Smith Street has been in existence as a street since at least the 1840s, roughly following the old track to Lower Heidelberg. The introduction of cable trams in 1885 made it Melbourne's pre-eminent suburban shopping street by the early 20th century. Foy & Gibson stores, connected by an underground tunnel, straddled the street, and Smith Street was also home to G.J. Coles' first variety store, opened in 1914.
From the 1930s, Smith Street was eclipsed as a retail centre by both city and suburban shopping centres. In the 1950s and 1960s immigrant families opened small businesses in many of the shops. Foy & Gibson closed in the late 1960s, but Coles struggled on until the early 1990s. A Safeway supermarket opened within the shell of the former Ackman's furniture store in the late 1980s. Today Smith Street is an eclectic mix of inner-urban grunge, high-order retailing and ethnic shops and restaurants, many Vietnamese, catering to residents of nearby warehouse apartments and Housing Commission estates.