Take a tour past some of Wollongong's most charming, dishevelled or interesting shopfronts with ADAM McLEAN'S photo essay, which gives a peek into part of the city's story. Words KATE McILWAIN.
If you wander up the lower part of Crown Street, you start to get a sense of Wollongong’s real story.
Unlike the shopping mall a few hundred metres west, the strip between Corrimal and Kembla Streets is mostly a charming hodgepodge of restaurants and other outlets, run by locals and infused with art and history.
For instance, at 75 Crown Street, there’s the strange combination of a real estate agent and plumber – each little business showing their wares in one window of the charming store. On the left side, there’s pipes and other plumbing bits and bobs, while on the right there’s handwritten For Sale signs belonging to perhaps the city’s longest-serving estate agent, Bob Onofri.
A few doors up, the trailblazing cafe Lee and Me inhabits 87 Crown Street – one of the city’s earliest surviving commercial buildings from the 1870s.
Across the road, a street art piece proclaiming “Stay Wild” reminds small businesses to stay true to their roots despite booming development, and just up on Kembla Street, the facade of Rad Bar signifies the shifting approach to revitalisation in the CBD.
Five years ago, the then operators of the bar, Yours and Owls, were forced to paint over an unauthorised mural outside the hole-in-the-wall venue turning the wall back to its plain grey. Now, such a ruling is almost unimaginable, as street art continues to add to the vibrancy of Wollongong.
In other suburbs, character-filled storefronts add to the local flavour.
In Warrawong, there’s the red-and-white checked curtains of Oscar Deli, or the peeling paint on stores in Cringila, which just so happen to be in the exact same shade as the BlueScope buildings beyond.
Not just interesting to look at, there’s pulling power in a shopfront – which is something town planners and councils have begun to recognise.
In the past three years, Wollongong City Council has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on upgrading facades in Wollongong and Port Kembla. In a well-regarded dollar for dollar funding arrangement, dozens of business owners have applied for money to paint, repair and boost the street appeal of their building facades.
And, just this week, the council agreed to spend another $187,000 for the same program to be rolled out in Corrimal. This will see updates happen at 21 properties, with a private investment of $335,000.
Recommending the funding be approved, council staff said: “Research suggests high quality facades and shopfronts encourage people to spend more time in attractive surrounds and directly and indirectly improve perceptions of safety.”
“Studies from around the world have demonstrated that improved streetscapes have a strong correlation with low vacancy rates.”
Click through the gallery above for a tour past some of the city’s most interesting shopfronts