I have long been a fan of shopping locally, in stores owned by local people who also shop locally. It keeps a town vibrant.
As a child I didn’t know the difference between shopping locally and shopping at a big chain store that sucked the lifeblood out of the local economy. We moved from Sydney to Katoomba when I was ten, around the same time K-Mart arrived amidst great fanfare. On the opening day, they handed out free ‘Super K-Mart’ T-shirts and Garry was there, the boy I had a crush on. Garry and I wore our glowing new K-Mart T-shirts proudly. It felt like a little piece of the city I had missed so much had come to town and I didn’t understand why the hippies protested — I thought it was fantastic.
I went on to work for six years at Super K-Mart in Katoomba, throughout my high school years and for my first year of uni. I worked in the cash office, where I got to eat jelly beans, listen to my own choice of music, and collect thousands of dollars in cash from 33 registers, five times a day with a hot guy called Andy, who pushed the trolley full of money and was like my personal bodyguard. Andy liked Jackie Wilson and wore Doc Martens, and I thought he was the coolest guy in all of Katoomba.
And those thousands upon thousands of dollars I counted, recorded, bagged up and posted in an Armourguard safe all day long? That got shipped out of Katoomba in a big truck, presumably landing at a head office in Sydney to be distributed amongst head honchos and shareholders who had never set foot in Katoomba.
I would never have told Pat the HR boss, a hard woman who scared the shit out of me, but I used to go out clubbing and pub crawling in Sydney on Saturday nights. I would stay up partying all night, then catch the 6am train on Sunday morning from Central to Katoomba, pull my crumpled uniform out of my backpack, and start counting money at 8am on no sleep. You can get away with that when you’re 18.
Other than shopping at that big chain supermarket, where I bought my first stereo and first ‘compact disc’, I have always been a local shopper.
For example, my best friend Jo and I used to steal Milky Ways and Mars Bars from the local newsagent in Katoomba Street. We also used to hit up the milk bar in Springwood when our Catholic school bus dropped us off. We stole ice-blocks in our poo-brown gabardine skirts and fawn shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘Act Justly’.
Nothing five minutes in confession couldn’t fix. Two Hail Mary’s, five Our Father’s. Clean slate.
It was when I moved to inner-city Newtown as an 18 year-old uni student that my dedication to shopping locally began. In Newtown, I had pubs like the Malborough, the Town Hall, the Sando and the Oxford to supply my beer and live music, a wealth of bookshops to supply my books, and let’s not even go there with the cafes and cheap Indian takeaways.
Then there was Bondi Beach, where I lived for five years in my 20s. I could get my organic F&V locally, my champagne and my one-night stands, without any need to venture further afield.
By the time I arrived in Maleny in 2004, I had the whole shopping locally thing well and truly sorted. I joined in the anti-Woolworths protest wholeheartedly. They won, of course. Don’t mention the war.
But the good news is, our village is surviving and thriving. Our rambling old community centre has been renovated beautifully and is now the pride of our town. We have our local butchers, bakers, newsagent, cafes, entertainment venues, gift shops, boutiques, our locally-owned IGA and our very own bank, the Maleny Credit Union. While people have been feeling the pinch lately and a few stores and cafes have closed their doors, most are still alive and kicking.
That makes me so happy.
One afternoon after school, I took my son to Rosetta Books in town. He wanted me to buy him a few books and I was tempted to buy them online for a cheaper price. Instead, I decided to pass on a value to my son, one I believe is very important and that I wish I’d been taught as a child.
“Let’s go to the bookstore after school and see if they have your favourite books,” I said.
He was pumped.
I kept to my promise. My son strode into the store full of excitement and asked the lady at the counter in a really loud voice, “Do you have any Zac Power books?”
“We certainly do,” she answered. “Follow me.”
She took him up the back of the store, where they have a beautiful children’s book section. He enjoyed browsing the books and running his hands over their covers. He wanted to buy every Zac Power they had in stock, as well as some new Where’s Wally’s.
We settled on a set of five Zac Powers for $24, which included a toy car. I thought it was a great deal, and my son was beaming.
We both left feeling happy we had fulfilled our needs — his to get his hands on the latest books he’s into; me to support a local business I admire. It was a good feeling, for both of us. You really can’t put a price on a feeling like that.
We’re fortunate enough to have two more quality bookstores in Maleny. There’s Maleny Bookshop, which specialises in out of print and second-hand books and is owned by Tyyni Lang and Fiona Hunter. Chris’ husband is Steven Lang, an award-winning local author who organises the brilliant Outspoken series of literary events, bringing world-class authors to our tiny town.
In our groovy new community centre we have another second-hand bookstore called ps: Books, owned by Peter Schiotz. I sold some of my favourite books to Peter years ago, when I was a single mother struggling to pay the bills. He said it was important to him that I was happy with the price he offered me. It surprised me that he cared, and while the money I made from selling my beloved books is long gone, that conversation still remains with me.
It may be cheaper to buy books online or download an ebook for your Kindle, but nothing beats the experience of reading a real book, with pages you can touch, turn and smell. When I pick up a really old book, the first thing I do is smell its pages and wonder about who has owned it and how many times it has passed from one owner to the next. For me, the timeless pleasure of curling up in bed with a book in your hands can’t be matched by anything from the digital age.
Buying a book from people who themselves live and breathe literature, like Maleny’s booksellers, is something else you can’t get from a Kindle. It’s a chance to connect with people. And a Kindle will never, ever have that old book smell.