A real community hub

May 24th, 2024A real community hub

In early March the Guildford General Store closed its doors and is now up for sale.

In early March the Guildford General Store closed its doors and is now up for sale.

In response, concerned community members began asking for expressions of interest to raise funds to buy the building and turn the business into a community-owned and run co-operative.

At this early stage there have been nearly 70 expressions of interest.

“It is a treasured asset in our community, our hub, our connection and communication with everyone, such an important building,” says committee member Liz Monty.

“We decided really the only way forward was to make sure that we bought the building and set up a community co-op to run the store.”

In small rural villages the general store serves as a crossroads for the entire community. But over the years many places have seen their local shop close down as trade is taken up by supermarkets in nearby larger towns.

It is a process that has been repeated over and over again across country Victoria. And today with so few in operation, a functioning, if not thriving, local store is an anomaly and something to be proud of.

Until recently the Guildford General Store,in operation since 1916, was one of those businesses bucking the trend.

Located on the Midland Highway, 11 kilometres south of Castlemaine, the building, originally the Commercial Hotel dating back to 1865, has taken on an almost iconic status, a living relic of bygone years, featured in car ads and photographed by every passing tourist.

But now there is no telling what may become of the historic building and so several community meetings were held leading to the formation of an interim committee aimed at conducting groundwork to establish a co-operative.

Still, while Guildford has a growing population and the idea has widespread support, the co-op proposal will require a great deal of commitment to bring it to reality.

“We are in phase one which is finding out if we have really got the people behind us to give us the financial backing we need,” says Liz.

“We are putting out expressions of interest via the Guildford Co-operative website and need a minimum buy-in of $5000 which equates to a single share and membership of the co-op. That’s a lot of money we are asking for from our community.”

The proposed Guildford Co-operative will be a legally formed and registered distributing co-operative with an elected board who will oversee management of the business.

If sufficient interest is shown within the next two months the next steps will be to purchase the premises with a view to reopening the store.

While it is early days yet, the initiative is fuelled by a dream to see the store returned to what was considered its halcyon days when it was managed by the Zepnick family.

“When the Zepnicks ran it, everything was made on site including pies, pasties and meals. That was wonderful and we would love that kind of model back.

“But the opportunities are endless, there are so many nooks and crannies in that store including the stable tavern out the back which used to have a liquor licence. Time will tell.”

Guildford is a small place but has shown it has the spirit to overcome the trials and setbacks that beset so many rural villages throughout Australia. The last few years has seen the town succeed in reopening its primary school and attracting new families to the area.

And while the dream of a Guildford Co-operative may be a big ask in these tight economic times it just might be an idea whose time has arrived.

Link: www.guildfordcoop.com.au

Words & image: Tony Sawrey

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