The humble suburban shop was once the destination for early morning milk runs, newspaper pick-ups and ice creams after school. But with the rise of large shopping centres boasting huge supermarkets and retailers, the little corner store seemed certain to disappear.
Headlines welcomed the ‘death of Canberra’s suburbs’ and speedy growth in housing around the inner north and south painted a foregone conclusion, but Canberra isn’t ready to let go of their local suburban shops just yet.
Revitalisation efforts, which typically see small businesses move into government-owned shops, has taken on many shapes in Canberra. Cafes and small restaurants remain a favourite, but community spaces and galleries are also on the rise across the city.
The ACT Government appears to understand the importance of revitalising our suburban shops, working to upgrade 20 of the 66 shops across the city in the last decade, according to government data provided to the Canberra Times.
According to Mark Larmer of Independent Property Group, growth and renewal of a suburb has plenty of benefits for buyers and homeowners.
“For many buyers, lifestyle is just as important as the property itself. People want the benefit of living in an established suburb – the large backyard, access to public transport, good schools. But they also want the convenience of being close to cafes and shops.
The more a suburb has to offer the more attractive it is to buyers. Properties become more valuable and homeowners benefit from an increase in demand. All residents get to enjoy the perks of revitalisation, it’s a win for everyone”.
Having limited ourselves to sipping long blacks on Lonsdale Street for too long, we set out to venture across Canberra and discover more about the suburbs leading the way in revitalisation.
Cook – For the bacon lover
Belconnen suburb, Cook, has become the gold standard for the revitalisation of suburban shopping areas.
Cook had, despite a busy childcare centre, community building and huge sporting ovals, fallen into disrepair over the last decade. A small supermarket and a hidden gem Chinese restaurant were just enough to keep the area on life support but it looked certain to eventually be boarded up.
Enter ‘Little Oink’. Quickly growing a reputation as not just one of the best suburban cafes in Belconnen, but one of the best in town, the cafe has drawn in loyal fans from across the sleepy suburb since opening two years ago. With a pork-heavy menu embracing the pig theme, all day breakfasts and great coffee have turned the small cafe into Cook’s de facto community space.
Little Oink is just a few doors down from the Friendly Grocer, a typical suburban mini-market with a twist. Focusing on locally-produced goods and specially-sourced products, the Friendly Grocer has also built up its own clientele, many of whom are not from within walking distance but surrounding areas.
While good food and even better coffee could appear to be the winning formula in the revitalisation of the Cook corner shops, it goes deeper than this.
Mark believes places like Little Oink and the Friendly Grocer are great as they provide goods and services, but more importantly, they provide a community hub for residents to meet.
“Old suburbs typically have established communities, neighbours who have lived alongside each other for years. As new residents move intoan area, it’s great to see more spaces where old and new residents have the opportunity to meet each other and continue building a sense of community”.
Aranda – An oasis for coffee and art lovers
When rising rent prices forced coffee institution ‘Two Before Ten’ out of the city, owner Chris Dennis looked to the all-but-abandoned Aranda shops as the answer. Two Before Ten’s success in Aranda highlights one of the overlooked advantages of moving outside of the centre of the city – access to space.
“People at the moment I think are a bit CBD-centric; they don’t realise that the CBD is full of people that drive in from the suburbs. So if you give them an option between the CBD and where they live it just makes it easier for people,” Dennis told ABC Canberra shortly after announcing the move in 2015.
Two Before Ten’s success in Aranda comes from the embrace of the uniquely ‘Canberra-ness’ of its surrounds. The entire building has been rented by Dennis, who has worked hard to ensure every corner of the oddly-shaped space is well utilised.
A small gallery and library space features photographs reflecting some of those hidden moments in Canberra’s history, while the surrounding scrubland has been left untouched free for children to play and run off their energy while mum and dad enjoy a meal.
Mark says places like Two Before Ten play a key role in building communities and attracting new residents. “Galleries, cafes and boutique shops bring culture to an area, creating spaces that residents can be proud of – you no longer need to be living in the CBD to experience arts and culture”.
Woden Valley – Homely, yet hip
Down south, revitalisation efforts have been slower but successful. ‘Fox and Bow’ in the Woden Valley suburb of Farrer has embraced revitalisation as part of the business model.
The family-run cafe has embraced the homely-yet-hip lifestyle young Canberra families are becoming known for. With a brightly coloured fit-out, including hand-painted murals along the outside of the building, Fox and Bow is a favourite for Instagram lovers willing to travel across Canberra for a snap of fresh juice or a bowl of muesli.
Tuggeranong – vegan, gluten and family friendly
With recent announcements by the ACT Government, Tuggeranong could be set for a major $3 million facelift. The updated Anketell Street could see food lovers and socialites flocking to the south. But the southern suburbs are already producing great places to eat and mingle, with The Public Place in Chisholm leading the charge.
Offering a menu which is vegan and gluten-free friendly would have been unheard of in the suburbs of Canberra just ten years ago, but The Public Place is building its own loyal clientele based on the changing needs of suburban Canberra.
“The Public Place is an example of what’s attracting buyers to the suburbs, particularly young families who want to enjoy the community feel of while still benefiting from the café culture that Canberran’s love.
You don’t need to be in Braddon or Kingston to enjoy amazing food and a good atmosphere; our suburbs have plenty to offer.”
Next time you’re planning a lazy Sunday brunch, we encourage you to look outside your usual hotspot and head into Canberra’s suburbs – we guarantee you’ll like what you find.