From humble beginnings in their little Emmett Street store, Leo and Dianne Berechree have been a part of the retail landscape in the main street of Smithton since 1993.
After closing the business’ doors on September 27, the pair now look forward to being able to spend more time together.
Leo and Dianne opened the discount store known as Mac’s Liquidation to fill a need in Circular Head. “At that time there were no discount stores in Smithton, people went up the coast to get what they needed – we filled a void,” Leo said, but not without backlash.
“There were a few people that weren’t very happy with us but most realised we were trying to keep people shopping locally.
“On opening day Dianne called me, she couldn’t get in the doors to open, someone had tied them all up in knots, they had to cut their way in.”
As locals came around to the idea of a discount store and realised the intent behind the business, Mac’s began to boom.
Leo and Dianne’s memories of their busiest times are from Christmas Parade nights.
“It was so busy, we’d have customers helping us serve and running to get us change . . . we just couldn’t keep up.”
Over the years the Berechrees’ business evolved to keep up with the changing times and remain viable.
Mac’s Liquidation moved from the now Wealth Financial location, across the road to where Time Out on Emmett sits then back across the road to the Ambroses building.
Mac’s then became a Skinny Margins food store franchise and Free Choice Tobacconist, moving on to include Smithton Auto and Hardware and finally closed the doors of Mac’s in June, 2013 to evolve into the cigarette store Cignall.
“It’s been a long road leading up to this, but with the cigarette companies giving more support to the grocery chains we just couldn’t compete,” Leo said.
“It was time to get out . . . we were cutting our margins to compete, our turnover was the same but the profit was getting less.”
With the empty store adding to a list of vacant shopfronts in the CBD, Leo is sad to say he doesn’t think they will be the last.
“With the growing number of corporations taking over the dairy farms, even the tree plantations, there just isn’t the amount of people coming to town anymore,” he said.
The flow of traffic past the doors is less and less, he added.
“It’s not just here though, it’s country towns everywhere and retail is so hard to get into now, the banks won’t lend the money for the young people to get started.”
Leo, Dianne and long serving staff member Jenny McGlasson will be remembered by their loyal customers for their personal touch and the little bit of cheek given and received in the store.
“We’ve always had excellent staff, all hand picked, we’ve never had any problems,” said Leo.
“My philosophy is . . . you’ve got to give people a reason to want to come back to your store, if you’re friendly, inviting and competitive people will support you.”
Since announcing the closure, the Berechrees have been humbled by the response from the community.
“We’ve gotten so many lovely flowers, cards and gifts, emails and phone calls, we even had one hand made gift posted to our home. It really makes you feel like you’ve achieved something,” Leo said.
While Jenny has been off enjoying a well earned holiday, Leo and Dianne look forward to spending more time at home and on their block. Leo especially is looking forward to getting out in the bush, maybe planning a holiday and spending more time with their nine grandchildren.
Dianne and Leo Berechree closed the doors of their business on September 27, after being a part of the Emmett Street retail scenery since they began trading in 1993.