Not only is Gilgandra’s Central Stores part of the town’s historic streetscape, but it continues the family heritage of its owner Elizabeth McAllister.
“I utilised the name of my grandfather’s business in Gilgandra which closed in 1969,” she explained.
The original Central Stores was a classic country general store which sold everything from fine crockery and gramophones to nails, paint and clothes lines.
The modern-day namesake, which opened in 2013, is a country-style emporium focussing on Australian fashion, accessories, homewares, art, books, locally-grown cacti and vintage pieces.
“Before moving back to my hometown from Sydney in 2011, I already had the idea to reference my grandfather's old general store business and so had the domain name registered ready to go,” she explained.
That inspiration led to a complete renovation of the store to maintain its unique features.
“Located in a heritage store front in Gilgandra, I have taken the shop back to its original form as much as possible,” Mrs McAllister said.
This included removing carpets to reveal old floorboards and taking down interior window coverings to let the light in through the huge shop front windows.
“Taking the paint off the old transit glasses between the windows and awnings is still something I aspire to – a big job!”
The shop has grown from Mrs McAllister’s fascination for old and unique items combined with her artistic flair and appreciation of good quality textiles.
“I have always loved fashion and design and grew up raiding the local St Vinnies for vintage Fletcher Jones woollen skirts,” she said.
With natural fibres such as wool and cotton grown in the region, Mrs McAllister loves to support these industries, a sentiment shared by her customers who appreciate buying Australian design and fashion.
“You can't actually beat wearing wool in winter and cotton in summer, although I am a major linen (made from flax) addict as well.”
Central Stores has grown from small beginnings to its current treasure trove.
“When I opened the shop, I had a small range of cushions in beautiful linens I had picked up in Sydney and made by my mother here in Gilgandra, a range of candles from Byron Bay, Japanese tea wares in blue and white, one rack of fashion that I had literally begged a fashion agent for (being between seasons), and a few pieces of vintage furniture – that's it.”
Six years on, Mrs McAllister has doubled the floor space by taking out a wall of the shop and now boasts a range of contemporary fashion and homewares. The stock is still focused on Australian design and natural fibres, paired with lots of accessories, shoes such as Birkenstock, plants and beautiful knickknacks including lamps, clocks, vases and planter stands.
“I aim to provide a good range of quality fashion, slow fashion, that my customers can wear for many years to come. I have tried lower-priced fashion ranges in the past due to customer requests, however, found the quality doesn't last past one season, and I had many items returned with faults and complaints.”
While she has a very strong in-store customer base, Mrs McAllister has expanded online and the website is now accounting for increasing sales.
“Sales in-store have fallen slightly over the last few years with drought and increased online shopping,” she explained.
“Many of my customers live further out in the region and can shop online and select 'click and collect' then pick up their order when they are passing through town.”
“Through my website, I post all over Australia and New Zealand. I have many customers who are based in very remote parts of the country and appreciate the selection of fashion I represent online.”
“Central Stores also has a newsletter and a great social media presence and this is often assisted with people visiting the store and posting images.”
Mrs McAllister believes that the secret of success is starting small and building the business. “Having the skill base to undertake most of the functions yourself, providing excellent customer service and stocking what you believe in,” she said.
Motivation in starting the business was partly based on being her own boss.
“I moved back to my hometown after being away for 30 years working mostly in the arts. I wanted to come back to the country before all my children left home and I had always wanted my own little shop where I could do my own thing.”
“I was inspired by other women in business over the years who were able to grow a business from very small beginnings.”
“Doing all aspects of the business myself including the marketing, website and accounts is something I find very rewarding.”
She loves the location of her business and the lifestyle it offers. Two of her three children are now pursuing tertiary education in metropolitan areas and Mrs McAllister lives on a farm.
“It's home for me once more and having married a local farmer five years ago, I now enjoy the benefits of living on the land - the beautiful landscape views and an amazing quality of life, despite the lack of rain.
“I love heading back to Balmain often, but I don't miss the city chaos!”
To keep Central Stores feeling fresh, Mrs McAllister loves checking out clothing and homeware ranges in other locations.
“I visit relevant trade fairs occasionally to source new brands but get more out of visiting other stores whenever I am out of town,” she said.
“I have developed good relationships with a number of agents over the six years.”
Mrs McAllister has a loyal customer base, many of whom have been coming to the store since it opened.
“I have seen many small shops open and close around the region during that time, so I am thankful that I have managed to survive.”
As a sole proprietor, Mrs McAllister undertook an introduction to small business course to polish the skills honed during various roles in the arts.
She has also hired casual staff over the years.
“Being based in such a small town, you can have very quiet days in store. As a business owner, you can never run out of work on the computer particularly when you have a retail website, but to maintain staffing ongoing, costs are prohibitive.”
Mrs McAllister’s goal for the future is to ‘continue to stock great fashion for local women and to expand on the reach of my website market.’
Her advice to others is simple: “Don't be afraid to make the leap out of your industry/career and start over if you have a dream to have your own small business.”