FED-UP Narrawong residents have called on the ANZ Bank to make more of an effort to sell the old Narrawong store, saying it is the missing link in the settlement that is otherwise thriving.
The Princes Hwy store, which closed for business in January 2017 and was later repossessed by the bank, has sat vacant for the past four years as development expanded around it.
The lack of maintenance of the buildings and surrounds has become more noticeable since, as well as the fact that a prime site for a business is sitting unused – with apparently little effort to sell the building.
Frustrations led local resident and business owner Gerri Torpy to contact the ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott directly, pointing out that there had been people interested in buying the store “which is very run down and becoming worse by the day”.
“Professionals, young families and retirees are relocating to Narrawong in unprecedented numbers,” Ms Torpy wrote.
“Land is being bought up sight unseen from Melbourne, houses are on the market for no time, numerous new builds are going up, the primary school is near capacity, the playgroup is thriving, the hall has a new kitchen, the caravan park is full over the summer period, the local campground has been inundated with visitors from all over during this period, the river and beach are also popular.
“Whatever the issue (with the store is) is, could it be resolved and put on the market for sale for our community to get back its local store?”
Mr Elliott wrote back, telling Ms Torpy that while he wasn’t personally aware of the issue, he would “forward your concerns to our team who look after such matters”.
He pointed out that the bank didn’t “take on ownership” of such properties but repossessed them when customers defaulted.
“We then have a legal obligation to sell the property at the best price to protect the borrower’s interests,” he wrote.
“We have absolutely no interest in holding such properties any longer than we need to. From the look of it, this may have been a petrol station? They have serious issue associated with them due to environmental clean-up requirements and that sometimes makes the properties unsaleable.”
Ms Torpy’s concerns were reflected by other concerned community members.
Deb Jones, who has lived in Narrawong for more than 30 years, said the store was previously a “thriving community hub”.
“It was a very busy place and there were other community members and groups that used it as well,” she said.
“An elderly gentleman used to sell poppies outside the store for the RSL and fundraisers were operated from inside. I used to have a corner in there with a book (stall) and that was to raise money for Nepal through Rotary.
“The community used to stop and chat, people used to wait for the V/Line (and school) bus and catch up, it was just a very valuable place for the community.”
While the post office and grocery functions have been successfully taken over in the settlement, there were plenty of other options for the building, such as a co-operative running a craft business hub or for someone wanting to run a café or similar.
“People are saying the garage space (pumps) is a barrier, it’s not, they can easily be knocked down or fenced off, there are plenty of places around where they’ve had pumps and worked around it,” Ms Jones said.
Resident Wendy Griffiths, who ran a similar store halfway between Melbourne and Sydney in the 1980s, said such stores were crucial as meeting places.
“Times change for sure but a place like this just brings the community together,” she said.
“This is a thriving gorgeous little community that stands on its own.”
Paulina Silbernagel said reopening the building would “close the loop of the community” and continue the Growing Glenelg initiative.
Ms Torpy, co-owner of the Bay of Whales Gallery and Coffee Shop, told the Observer “everyone just wants it back up and running in some form”.
“We’ve had people in the gallery who were interested, and a guy who had a petrol station didn’t think it would be an issue,” she said.
“We just need someone who comes in and knows what they are doing.
“Put it on the market for $1, if someone gets it going at least our community has this facility, instead of putting it in the too-hard basket.
“Just do something.”
The Observer asked the ANZ if the property was actively being marketed for sale, if there were any plans to, was there an asking price and how someone would go about trying to buy it.
An ANZ spokesman said that while the bank couldn’t comment on an individual’s specific circumstances, it was “exploring a range of options in relation to this property in conjunction with the customer”.
“There are additional considerations for this site due to the nature of the previous business located there, which could take some time to work through,” he said.
The site originally housed the Farmers Inn hotel, owned by Thomas Donehue (whose descendants still live locally) and which opened its doors in September 1859.
It became the Narrawong Hotel in 1897 and later the general store.