The West

The shops that can t be beat
Owner of Planet Video Hayden Robinson. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

They have withstood the winds of economic change and the ravages of fashion.

They have suffered beltings from the new suburban shopping centres, the big department stores and the landlords.

Yet somehow a hardy band of shopkeepers continue to defy the doomsayers and keep their doors open.

Some have moved with the times, others stayed true to their roots and paid keen attention to their customers, treating them as part of their wider family.

Culley's Tea Rooms is one.

The business opened in 1925 and has passed through four generations of the Culley family.

It has survived all the competition from Fremantle's burgeoning cafe scene. Not only has it survived, it has thrived.

A few years ago it underwent big renovations and emerged with a fresh look while retaining its heritage feel.

Last year, another Culley's opened in nearby O'Connor to cater for workers in the industrial suburb.

The business is owned by Michael Culley, a great-grandson of the founders, and business partner Oliver Pownall, a baker and pastry chef.

"It's a combination of moving with the times and maintaining the traditions Culley's has always had," Mr Pownall said.

He cites service, product quality and value for money as its three principles.

"What we look for is repeat business," he said.

Torre Butchers is another customer-driven business.

The Torre family have produced five generations of butchers, with two in Sicily before they migrated to Australia.

They opened their Northbridge shop in 1950 and today Carl Torre, son of founder Carl Sr, serves behind the counter with his son, David. Its secret?

Carl Torre tries to treat customers as individuals. David Torre cites service and product.

"Purvey the finest produce you can," is his motto. "And focus on what you're doing, have faith in what you're doing and don't worry about what others are doing."

Haydn Robinson's shop hasn't yet passed through the generations of his family, but there's no doubting the loyalty of his "tribe".

It has been 22 years since he and business partner Bill Langeveldt started a video rental store in a 75sqm shop in Mt Lawley.

Planet Video was different from the franchise video stores and had arthouse movies.

"It just took off," Mr Robinson said. "People loved it. Some days you couldn't get another person inside. It was scary."

They bought adjoining properties to the corner site on Beaufort and Walcott streets and Planet Games, Planet Posters and Planet Music were born.

But the business has shrunk and its landmark corner shop has closed. It's been an annus horribilis, Mr Robinson said, citing the downturn in retail trade coupled with rising costs.

"But rather than roll over and say 'it's just too hard', you've got to try," he said.

He is optimistic he can ride the storm of ebooks and online shopping. Now, the business is based in two floors of adjacent properties to the corner building.

"We're trying to set ourselves up for the next 10, 15 years," he said. And that includes the new cafe, the Daily Planet, and a small bar.

Len Hughes is another who has experienced boom and bust.

He opened a shop selling cards of American basketball players in 1992. He reckoned he'd be on a winner judging by the eagerness his two young sons, who kept tapping him for money whenever they saw American import Al Erickson's card stall at the Cockburn Cougars' stadium.

Mr Hughes and Mr Erickson opened a card shop in Fremantle and were soon forced to move to bigger premises.

Before long, the partners had opened three more shops across Perth to satisfy the demand sparked by the enthusiasm for all things basketball.

That fervour has long since died. A dozen or more competing outlets in central Perth have gone and Al's Card Shop on Wellington Street is the sole survivor of his own small chain.

"The reason for our survival is we've gone with the trends and diversified," Mr Hughes said.

NBA cards now make up only a fraction of turnover, but there's a healthy trade in AFL cards and collectable card games, posters, figurines and accessories.

Mr Hughes' motto is to concentrate on his shop and not worry about online sales.

"I have to make sure I offer a service for people who won't deal online," he said.

As for Mr Erickson, he's no longer involved in the business and the Hughes boys have long since dropped their card-collecting hobby.

But Al's Card Shop just keeps ticking over.

The West Australian

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