When Barry and Narelle Markwick opened their card and gift shop in the Wollongong city centre in February 1985, the Crown Street Mall was still new.
In the 37 years since, the resilient business owners have kept their business alive through multiple changes and challenges - the removal of the controversial birdcage, the equally divisive $22.5 million grey-paver makeover, recessions, the internet and ongoing debate about whether the street should reopen to traffic.
But as they close the door to Total Expressions for the last time this month, there is just one thing they would like to see happen: three hours free parking for shoppers.
Mr Markwick believes it would help more businesses survive and remain profitable, especially during a time of so much uncertainty.
"My gut feeling I get from feedback from customers is that the biggest issue is still parking and accessibility," he said.
"It's difficult to get around the city and that has always been the case. It's a turn-off."
Mr Markwick said if Bondi Junction and Miranda could provide three hours free parking, it was also possible in Wollongong.
He would also not object to a single lane of traffic weaving through the mall.
Last year was the hardest for the popular shop, the go-to place for special occasions for several generations of Wollongong families.
Mr Markwick had already decided to sell and retire when COVID-19 struck in March 2020. But despite 93 inquiries, none made it across the line. So now he is biting the bullet and winding down trade later this month.
"Last March was the thing that really started to change my focus," he said.
"It was a roller-coaster ride last year. Everything was so uncertain. I can't blame anyone for not wanting to buy the business. I wouldn't buy into retail at the moment. Look at what is happening to Melbourne where everything is shut down again."
Mr Markwick, 72, was not able to work from home and did not want to risk other people's health during lockdown, which is why he spent most of 2020 running the business by himself.
"At the moment we are just trying to sell down the stock as much as we can. And then we will do a de-fit and take everything out," he said.
Total Expressions has not always been in its present location.
After he left the accounting role he held at WIN TV since 1973, Mr Markwick started the card and gift business in Crown Central near the escalators. But that site was not big enough for the growing business.
"Michael Corban came to me one day and said Soul Pattinson were moving out," Mr Markwick said.
"So I rang the head office in Sydney. The company secretary came down, we had a cup of coffee in Crown Central and 20 minutes later had shook my hand and that was it."
Mr Markwick said Mr Corban ran a business called Flair at the time which later became Tramps.
He said while cards were the main focus the concept for his business model was to provide unique gift options to go with them for births, birthdays, marriages, anniversaries and other special occasions.
Total Expressions has stocked everything from jewelry boxes, music boxes, pens, pewter and many other collectables such as dolls, hand made bears, pottery, hats, magnet and key chains.
Much of the stock was unique because the Markwicks attended a major trade show in Melbourne every August to cherrypick the best gift ideas.
"Australian souvenirs have also been a big part of our business," Mr Markwick said.
"When we first opened we started getting people coming in asking for them and we have expanded over the years."
So much so that Mr Markwick used to team up with the tourist information centre to joint order souvenir stock made with the word Wollongong included.
He said up until March 2020 they were incredibly popular with cruise ship visitors and international university students.
"We have only just recently started selling some of that stock again," Mr Markwick said.
"Not to tourists but locals sending souvenirs overseas to friends and family who can't visit."
Mr Markwick and his wife are starting to feel emotional as many loyal customers come in to tell them how sad they are to see the business close and expressing how much it will be missed.
"They are coming in with sheets of paper buying forward for Christmas," he said.
"It has just been overwhelming. Two weeks ago on a Thursday night I had three generations of one family here. The grandmother was quite upset to discover we are closing."
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