Sunday, January 8, 2012

You’ve changed- Thornbury, Northcote and Westgarth's dying High St.

In the film ‘You’ve got mail’, Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly writes
“People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it'll be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it'll be just a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it's a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that's the sort of thing I'm always saying. But the truth is... I'm heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right.”

This quote sticks in my mind as I walk the local streets and notice 'it', the emptying of the local soul. It seemed to have crept up on us silently. Just like cancer. I see the vacant spaces where life used to be. In the places where people once engaged and ‘community’ was created, now sit empty shops, closing down signs and sales announcing ‘the end’. Many of these stores I recall from when I was a boy. They were filled with people who remembered your name.They would strike up a conversation, ask how you are, talk about this and that and importantly ask how you went with your last purchase; ‘how did the sanding go’, ‘did you get those pants altered’ ‘did you like that new cheese or sausage?’ ‘how did the party go that you brought that gift for', 'did they like the gift?’ etc...

Now it is all disappearing.

It is more than about business, It is about community. Behind the businesses are the people of the community, who live here and often employ other locals. Just like you and I, these people make the area what it is. The vibrancy you feel, the one that brings others here, The one that gives Thornbury, Northcote and Westgarth it’s appeal… well, we as a collective, as a community created it. Unfortunately, the popularity of the area means that property values skyrocket,  landlords increase rents to prices that are not viable for these ‘mom and pop’ stores. As well, local council increase rates and fees. Who can afford to stay? Certainly not those who have small profit margins, high overheads and/or low stock turnover. I know it’s more complex than that. I know that business is lost to larger chain stores, who (because of buying power) can sell the same products cheaper, drawing away those locals wanting or needing to save money. And yes, there are many other reasons why local businesses close, but either way, I am grieving for our loss, for our community’s loss. I know that change and death are the only things we can rely on, but I guess I foolishly expected my local community to remain unchanged and the truth is, just like Kathleen Kelly, I find myself heartbroken.

This is for my neighbourhood. 
Billie Holiday-  "You’ve changed"
"You’ve changed.
That sparkle in your eyes has gone.
Your smile is just a careless yawn.
You’re breaking my heart, you’ve changed"

 Images from a collapsing neighbourhood:
As I walked down High St (traveling through Thornbury, Northcote and Westgarth), this is what I saw (forgive me the rudimentary picture collages).

Eight shops/businesses going or gone:

Another eight:

 Yet another eight:

Twelve final images of loss:

Click here for more you've got mail inspired blogging


  1. Portions of Greenwich Village, here in New York, have begun to look the same way. It is heartbreaking and sad. Do not apologize for the rudimentary photo collages. You are merely capturing a moment in time. Best, Marty

  2. Thanks Marty... Sorry to hear about Greenwich Village going the same way....not only have my local stores gone, but where I live is at risk of being over taken by hipster cafes, where us daggy locals will be too uncool to enter...LOL

  3. i couldn't agree more. it's like a horrible cancer in the community. i know change is inevitable. i hate to see empty shops as they hardly ever get reopened just pulled down and rebuilt into something soulless or worse just sit there decaying. your images are very sad. i love the movie you've got mail. i've seen it seven times. it's just so sweet. totally unlike real life btw. and you threw in billie holiday. i will check out the blogs you suggest. hope you are well. xx

  4. Hi Yevisha....
    You've got mail is not like real life??? What ???
    So I guess I should stop waiting for Joe Fox to come into my life via anonymous internet chat rooms :-(
    As for the 'other blogs' it is really just a link to a blog posting of mine about 'You've got mail'.
    All well here, Hope you are doing fine!

  5. no, don't ever stop. i'm also waiting for my joe fox. i wait and i wait. :) i might watch it tonight, i could use some sweet romance and lovely escapism atm. :) all well here. i'm off to work shortly. kmn :)

  6. Thorners is booming so it's surprising... hopefully some decent cafes & what-not will start to pop up there, as we don't want apartments upon apartments lining the street, because then, good old Coles & Woolworths will start to rear their very, very, very, ugly heads!

    ...and maybe the landlords need to drop their prices as I've heard that a bit further up (the Preston end) it's alot cheaper...maybe greed has played a large part in the killing off of that strip?

  7. Tom Boy, greed and opportunism have a lot to answer for...
    I am often asked why I charge a lessor amount for things that I could charge more money (for and make more profit from)... My response is always- because I think what I am asking for is a fair price and I don't want to be greedy and rip people off just because the opportunity is there to do that.

    I do often wonder where our respect for each other and for acting with integrity has gone... I have no idea how we as people can put money or profits before people, sure we all need to pay the bills, but profiteering is beyond 'paying the bills'...we need a healthy and respectful balance.... I'll stop ranting now....

  8. Matthew - I agree the demise of the local shopping strip is sad - however, in one way, I am often happy to see the empty shops like in your pictures as opposed to my local shops in St Kilda, where the local businesses close but are replaced by chain stores full of crap we don't need, who can pay the higher rents. It is a long time since i have enjoyed shopping in Acland Street around the corner. Although it is sad that the local shops close, I am often happy that the greedy landlords have not been able to get new tenants at the higher rents they try to charge. But it is very sad when the local businesses and members of the community fall by the wayside. Victor

  9. I hear what you are saying Victor.. I guess for me, each time i pass the empty shops I am reminded of what I, and the community have lost.. I am not sure what is worse or better.. seeing chain stores or vacant shells.

  10. guess what movie is on gem as i type. yes. you've got mail. i'm settling in for an hour or two of sweet escapism.

  11. Gosh I did not realise that things were like that in Thornbury and surrounding areas. I thought the place was booming! My sister has just moved to Thornbury and I was excited to check out some cool cafes, restaurants etc upon my return to Aus.