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Stories of Resilience - Carelle's Toy Store

Glen Innes

The Glen Innes area was parched by drought, then scorched by bushfires and isolated by Covid-19 restrictions. In the village of Wytaliba east of Glen Innes, three lives were claimed by the bushfire that also destroyed up to 70 homes, a bridge and the primary school, leaving the town isolated for many weeks. In Glen Innes, businesses suffered a dramatic loss of trade. As a traditional toy shop, Carelles has been a landmark retailer in Glen Innes since 1969. Re-opening and re-growing trade was healing, on an individual and economic levels.


"I love it when families come in with their children.
The expressions of joy and comments really make my day"


About Much More Than Money

For Carelles Toy Shop owner Sue Waters, a business can be about much more than money.
“When I bought the business in 2014, after we sold our family farm, I wanted to keep it as a traditional style toy shop. I wanted to give children that lovely experience that we had as children when we were growing up; that experience of going into a toy shop that was special, full of interesting and different things. They can come through and browse, explore and play. They don’t have to feel pressured to buy anything. I love it when families come in with their children and they might spend half an hour looking through the shop. The expressions of joy and comments from kids really makes my day, it really does. It gives me a great sense of pleasure,” she said.


Drought, Bushfires and the Pandemic

Sue described the recent dark times she had endured. “The drought was exceptionally hard on rural communities and the Glen Innes retail sector. Bushfires also had a very large impact. Bushfires stopped people from traveling and the news that was being reported in the cities that places like Glen Innes had been burnt out just frightened travellers, stopped people from coming to our community.


"I started advertising on radio. It actually brought me
in customers from other towns that don't have a toy shop
I've had people hear my ad on the radio and drive
to Glen Innes, looking for my business."


“Covid had a serious impact but strangely enough, not as bad as the drought. I don’t think people in the city realised how severely impacted all the rural towns were by the drought because it dragged on for so long. Once Covid came along it was difficult to deal with, but I think the fact that the Federal Government has given families additional payments, it meant that they had more income that they could spend and because they weren’t traveling anywhere else, they were actually spending it in their local shopping district. The hardest thing about Covid was the isolation; not being able to go and see friends or family. I think that really impacted our local community, as much as the financial impact.

“My income during Covid was actually twice what I was getting during the drought. It was quite interesting when I was doing my bookwork to see what was going on. I dealt with it by basically just (in old fashion terms) tightening my belt. I didn’t spend money on extra things, personally. As I am an owner operator, everything I spend effects my income and my business. I hadn’t had a holiday for 10 years until just recently. Everything I had, everything I made went back into the business to keep it going because if you don’t do that, your business ends up closing. It wouldn’t just be bad and tragic for me in my circumstances but also bad for the local community. When you have a shop as big as this, which is in its’ way an icon in the district, when it closes down, it has an unacknowledged psychological impact on the people who live in the district.”


Strength From Within

“I think resilience is very, very important. You have to just keep on going. I’m a single mother and I brought up both of my children by myself. I couldn’t have afforded to just close my doors and walk away and I didn’t want to. I spent 50 years of my life on a farm and I think that helped me to develop that resilience and that idea that you have to keep on going, day after day, after day,” Ms Waters said. “As much as anything it is psychological. I was prepared to make financial sacrifices myself to make sure my business kept going. Most of the businesses in this town have survived Covid. Most of us here do have that resilience; to survive the drought, the bushfires and then Covid, we just developed resilience.”


Attracting Customers by Being Unique

While many businesses owe much to online promotion or trade, investing in more traditional marketing paid off for Carelles toy store, as Ms Waters worked on her business recovery.
“Interestingly enough, the one thing I did do was I started advertising on radio. It actually brought me in customers from other towns that don’t have a toy shop. They might have a big W or a K Mart but it’s not the same experience. They don’t have the same stock range, they don’t keep the old fashioned toys, like yo-yo’s and slinkies and all those things that kids love. The fact that I’ve advertised on radio has attracted customers from hundreds of kilometres away. I’ve had people hear my ad on the radio and drive to Glen Innes, looking for my business.”

Ms Waters said that she contemplated adding shopping cart facilities to her website but decided that it would not be time efficient, cost effective or fit in with Carelles. “The core of my business is the whole toy shop experience. The whole atmosphere of the shop.”

Watch Sue's Full Story

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