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The local shops.

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Tuesday 21 March 2006

Belinda Keir, journalist


The Local Shops  


There are lots of things that help us get through the daily grind, and for my survival I’d like to thank in part the staff at Manuel’s Superior Meats and Souvlakia. 


We’re lucky enough to live in a community with a lively set of local shops. As well as Manuel and the boys, there’s Jenny at the supermarket, Paul at the garden centre and Trish at Vinnies. George cuts all the blokes’ hair and his daughter Katerina does the same for the girls. Eamon at the take-away makes a terrific burger, or a barbecued chicken when you’re stuck for dinner ideas. We also have a doctor, dentist, bread shop and a small post office. 


It’s all there, and best of all it’s within walking distance. With my trusty trolley I can head out on foot and come back with a big load of goodies. We know the shopkeepers and they know us, so my kids can learn independence by running simple errands. Shaggy boys are parked at the barber with money and a novel and told “come home when your hair’s cut”. Vinnies takes deposits as well as withdrawals, so when it comes to culling the wardrobe and toy box we just stroll down with a big bag each. 


Slightly further afield, a short bike ride gets us to the hardware or the chemist or the library or the Portuguese bakery for a custard tart or three. In short, we can find all the essentials of life without putting a key in the ignition. 


It’s an incredibly civilised way of life, and because Australians generally live in cities most of us can access it in some form.  


But we don’t. 


Instead Australians prefer to fire up the four-wheel-drive for even the tiniest errand. Local shopping strips dwindle and communities degrade. 


One justification is price, but is driving really that worthwhile? Okay the cornflakes might be five cents cheaper, but what have you spent getting them?  

There’s the fuel cost of starting up and driving the car, as well as wearing the engine out faster.  


The greenhouse gasses generated are much worse on short trips. 


You missed yet another opportunity for exercise. 


Worst of all, this behaviour costs time and you can never get that back. What does your employer think you’re worth? It’s ludicrous for someone to be a consultant billed out at $250 an hour during the day, yet when it comes to family their time is so cheap it can be squandered in a checkout queue. 


A lot of us get trapped by those shopper dockets, but when the supermarket subsidises petrol they are really subsidising bad behaviour (and at the back of our minds we know that’s what it is). 


Apart from the money, time and greenhouse gases, losing the local shops costs us all social capital. Jenny’s supermarket means much more to our suburb than somewhere that sells groceries. If there’s anything you want to know, chances are one of these people can help. They’ll donate to the school’s fundraiser or put up posters when there are kittens that need a good home. Lynne from Vinnies is also the soccer club secretary and looks after stray cats in the park. When the school canteen bought a meat slicer Jenny was happy to show us how to work it and Manuel told us where to get mesh gloves to use it safely. In the recent holidays the boys at the butcher’s had good advice on what movies to take bored kids to. 


Then there’s the social networking that goes on in the checkout queue. When almost all the customers live in a very short radius this is where you learn what’s really going on. We run into people, have a chat and find out when soccer starts, or council’s plans for roadwork, or where to find a piano tuner. 


In my opinion, the local shopping strip is a valuable and endangered species and well worth preserving. We can do this easily by thinking locally when we need things. Don’t just nip in there for the odd carton of milk - fill your shopping bag. 


And if you’re after a movie to go to next school holidays, just ask the boys at Manuel’s.  


Guests on this program:

Belinda Keir  

Sydney Writer