News / Business

Renowned design store decides it’s time to move on

After 15 years in Brunswick East, The Boroughs Store will move to a solely online operation at the end of this month

Eddy Carroll and Alasdair MacKinnnon inside their soon-to-close shop.

Mark Phillips
Monday, June 13, 2022

BRUNSWICK East’s loss will be Westernport’s gain when revered design store and gallery The Boroughs Store closes at the end of this month.

The Lygon Street shop has been a Mecca for inner northern craft and design products for 15 years, gathering international recognition along the way.

With owners Alasdair MacKinnon and Eddy Carroll making a lifestyle change by moving to Bittern, near Hastings, the shop will move to a fully online operation.

Over 15 years – the past decade of that under Mr MacKinnon’s ownership – The Boroughs Store has championed the local area by highlighting inner northern artists and craftspeople and bringing a bit of hipness to what was still a light industrial area when it first opened.

Mr MacKinnon says he has a mild sense of “mission accomplished” at the role the shop has played in the character of its part of Lygon Street during its 15 years, but he also feels nostalgic for what the area was like in the shop’s early days.

But he says the time is right to try something new.

“We’ve felt like we’ve contributed fairly considerably to the idea of placemaking around particularly around Brunswick East,” he says.

“After doing this for 10 years, providing a great environment for beautiful products that have functional use, we wanted a new challenge that didn’t necessarily involve the same place.”

The shop was established in 2007 under the original ownership of designers Stephanie Fleming and partner Kyle De Kuijer, who had a workshop out the back.

A local focus from the start

Mr MacKinnon, whose background is in fashion design and retail brand development, came to the business in the middle of 2012 through work he had done with Brunswick knitwear manufacturer, Otto & Spike, whose factory is nearby.

“I was really attracted to the area because of its legacy of textile manufacturing … and then there was the other thing that really characterises the area which were very humble houses that people lived in” he says.

“I felt that it had real soul. For me, it [buying the shop] was about telling some of that story.”

The store originally only stocked products made within a 10 km radius, although that has been slightly relaxed over the years, but still retains a focus on the inner north and proudly stamps itself with the 3057 postcode. That has extended to producing its Like A Local map, and collaborations with local producers, such as artisan chocolate maker Monsieur Truffe.

Ms Carroll, who is also a textiles artist, met Mr MacKinnon in 2016, and together they have expanded the size of the store and the range of products it stocks.

Time for a change

Mr MacKinnon and Ms Carroll say that COVID-19 nudged them down the path to closing the shop, but it was far from the only factor. The pandemic has created a shift towards online shopping that has impacted on the regularity and types of customers who frequented The Boroughs Store before COVID.

During the first lockdown in 2020, the store pivoted to an online platform, making about 500 deliveries by bike within a five kilometre radius. After the lockdown ended, it was initially became a refuge for local residents and customers.

But Ms Carroll said there had been a definite change in customer behaviour over the past couple of years and she said she missed the sense of community that was more common in the shop’s earlier days.

“The people in apartments that were coming in, during the pandemic, had never shopped locally before. They didn’t know the area … And then the other thing was that when I would talk about what the store was about, they didn’t care. Like it doesn’t matter that it locally produced, it doesn’t matter about the story.”

Another factor has been the change of the neighbourhood, which is vastly different from what originally attracted Mr MacKinnon.

“It’s sort of turned into Bay Street, Port Melbourne, circa 1996 when all of a sudden, it became a wind tunnel because of all of the apartment buildings up the street. I mean, it’s two things, it’s the building of apartments, and then the general gentrification of the rest of the real estate.”

“The concept of the store kind of made sense, when there are factories around it’s like, oh, yeah, this is just made over there, and we were sort of a part of that,” added Ms Carroll.

Mr MacKinnon said at one stage he had contemplated either moving the store further north or opening a second store to follow the original customer base.

As for their next project, Mr MacKinnon and Ms Carroll plan to start a new business, which they are calling Westernport Supply Co.

They say they want to contribute to the Westernport Bay area in the same way they did to Brunswick East by providing an outlet for local artists and craftspeople to reach customers.