When Anna Jandzio and husband Tim first drove into Bellingen township more than 13 years ago their fate was sealed. “We just knew. We turned to each other and said we’ve found home,” says Anna. They had a fairly simple brief when searching for an alternative to their city life. “Warm weather and a Steiner School. But what we found here was so much more.”
We hear this story so many times. It is that intangible montage of so elements that captures our hearts. And Anna, with business partner Tiff, have managed to meld these same elements into ‘Weave’, an arts and crafts retail shop in Bellingen, which they quaintly describe as ‘a great big shop in a friendly little town’.
Unlike many retail outlets ‘Weave’ has actually flourished during this lockdown period. “Locals have really supported us. The circumstances have meant many more people shopping locally, plus our loyal customers have provided us with so much support and we are grateful for this.”
Weave certainly straddles many camps. A retail shop, stocking quality goods suited to both the local and tourist market, managed by Steiner mums. I’m keen to understand where Anna sits on issues like ‘shop local’ and ‘tourism’ and would like to appreciate her vision for our Shire going forward.
Anna why do you believe your business was immune to the Covid crisis?
The support of our loyal local clients was invaluable. However, the current situation has also awakened the creative impulse in people, who have been at home more and not as busy. You could say we had the right product for the time as locals were keen to try their hand at knitting, painting or other crafts. As we go forward, people might revert to their old patterns and their knitting ends up in a basket hidden away. Or they might feel a profound sense of change, having had a taste of accessing their creativity.
We have always stayed true to our own values, and have only ever sold products we feel good about. People want honest and authentic. Most people don’t want manufactured products- they want the real deal. Our customers say to us all the time “We love that the stuff we can buy here isn’t the same as what we can buy elsewhere.”
Tourism is always a tricky topic. How important is tourism to the ongoing success of your business and how would you like tourism in the Shire to look?
Tourism is essential to the viability of my business and most businesses across the Shire. We rely equally on visitors and locals. Some of our goods are very much oriented to local markets. But visitors also find authentic art supplies and Steiner materials that can’t be found elsewhere.
In saying that, I’m also slightly apprehensive about where we are headed as a community and region. We need to honour what we have here and make decisions based on our values and beliefs. We certainly don’t want to become the victim of our own success.
Our communities are aligned to some extent with sustainability, but we do have a way to go on this point. We could do some strong things as a community to improve that perspective and be recognised as a region that values sustainability.
It is a fine balance between maintaining what we have and realising that tourism is crucial for our collective survival. I think this opens up a bigger conversation about values and sustainability. Can we get the balance right?
When people travel they want something different. We know that the Bellingen Shire represents this. So we should harness this. I hear my customers all the time. For them the Shire has a quality they admire or would like to tap into. People come here for the spirit of alternative living. Somehow we capture something for people inside and outside the area. Otherwise we wouldn’t attract so many visitors. So we need to cherish that quality. I have my arms metaphorically wrapped around this ‘thing’, which is so hard to define. I do know we need to cherish that quality.
The term ‘shop local’ has been somewhat overdone. However, how important is this sentiment?
Very. However, this is a two-way street. The business community are an integral part of the community as a whole. Where would we be without them? I do believe that retailers in small towns like ours need to reflect the local ethos and make sure that they are catering to the everyday; local items suited to locals. This will help to keep locals shopping locally.
Every dollar spent in our community circulates and multiplies through our community. When you shop locally, you are contributing to local wages while creating local jobs. This allows employees to spend and businesses to source more product. Buying from a locally owned business conserves energy and resources in the form of less fuel for transportation and less packaging. And local business owners know you, and you know them. Every dollar spent outside our community is lost to us.
Its tricky as I feel you can’t tell people where to spend their money – our circumstances are all different. Instead of money, let’s call it energy. Invest your energy in your community – it could be money or it could be effort, time, commitment – we all have something to offer.
Do you source your products locally too?
Weave stocks as much locally sourced product as possible. We source from local artisans and ceramicists. A local woman crochets the beanies that are so popular at this time of year. We source our fleece from Moonee.
Handmade goods are often a labour of love and it isn’t easy to make a profit after time and material costs are taken into account. We like finding smaller businesses who make beautiful hand dyed yarns and crafts – maybe this virus will encourage more Australian manufacturing and so more beautiful toys and craft will become available.
What are your hopes for the future of Bellingen Shire?
My hope is for a vibrant region that stays true to our values. Let’s be the showpiece for sustainability. We need to walk the walk. As a retailer I’m hoping that our towns thrive with an eclectic mix of businesses suited to both the locals and the tourists.
Maybe pop-up shops could occupy the vacant premises so concepts can be tested. This will mean Council and landlords might need to be more flexible.
We have something unique that needs to be preserved. We are pretty lucky here.