On this Oz trip I’ll post random shots and commentary here, with no theme but place; which for a few more days is Melbourne, a very fine city indeed. In this instalment buttons, thread, and thoughts on business models.

But first, a sunset, I bet I could photoshop away the wires, but I like them (worth enlarging).

Melbourne Sunset

What Melbourne’s Like · I’ve been here lots and I keep being reminded of Toronto (although more than one native has sneered at the comparison). It’s big, it’s flat, the water’s to the south, it has trams, it’s aggressively multi-ethnic. Well, except for, the weather’s way better here. And so is the public transit; there is a train from pretty well anywhere to pretty well anywhere, usually several times per hour (I’m writing this on one).

They use the word “suburb” differently here—everybody lives in one. It may be mostly retail and walking distance from the Central Train Station, but if people live in it, then in Australia it’s a “suburb.” I have to explain to Aussie friends that where I live in Vancouver, green and residential though it is, since it’s within the city’s boundary and minutes from downtown, is emphatically not a suburb and there are people who would resent their neighborhood being called one.

You see a few Starbucks here, but they’ll never grow as thick as back in the States, because there’s a long-established coffee culture; there are few places where you can’t hunt down a Long or Strong or Skinny Latte, and for kids they make this thing called a “Babyccino”, mostly foam and cinammon sprinkles in a little cup; is that civilized or what?

Business Models · The economy is deeply different than North America’s; a bunch of business models still work here that, where I come from, I suspect have been plowed under the harrows of strip-malls, Wal-Marts, and remote shopless subdivisions. Everywhere you go you see butcher shops, toystores, greengrocers, bakers, staffed by members of every ethnic group including my own, some of whom are young and eager-looking and apparently see this as a career.

Retail in the New World isn’t like this any more. Which is a pity; working in a bakery may not have the glamour of the fast track through college to the finance industry, but for damn sure you’re not going to get outsourced or offshored.

Another consequence is that things can be startlingly expensive. Partly this is the result of the Aussie Dollar having been on a rocket ride recently, too fast for the import price corrections to have worked their way through the system. But I think a big part of it is that when you shop at a smallish place that you can walk to, staffed by people who think of it as a job, you’re going to end up paying more than when you drive to a big-box store staffed by people earning peanuts and turning over at 50%/year or more. So if a head of lettuce or a laundered shirt or cut of lamb costs more, that seems like a good trade-off, to me.

The wine’s still a world-class bargain, though.

North Brighton

North Brighton · We visited an upscale “suburb” called North Brighton on the way back from the beach. Above is the main street; it’s very Australian, with a rich mix of retail options, each sporting a convenient awning so you can stroll in comfort whatever the weather.

Sign outside Button Emporium

The pretext for the stop was lunch, but it turns out Lauren had researched the needlecraft space and turned up a couple of potential shopping destinations there. I try to be patient and helpful in minding the kid when Lauren gets sucked in to such an emporium; in exchange, she is OK with me getting stalled in audio or music establishments. But on this occasion, I was entertained too, because the sewing stores were full of eye candy. (Also, I should say, full of nice people who didn’t mind the 4½-year-old bouncing around, nor me snapping photos of their wares.) First of all, here’s the inside of the embroidery-supplies store. It’s almost a shame that all these shades are getting crushed down into 24-bit RGB triples on the way to your screen, a mere 16,777,216 colours seems so inadequate.

Embroidery store interior

But that was only the first course in the feast for the eyes. Just down the road was the button shop, which is something that you just don’t see every day. Below is just a small fraction of their display.

Button-shop interior

Framed in the door of a shop full of party dresses and fripperies, a lovely young woman frowned at her desk. She glanced up and I asked “May I take your picture?” and she lit up the store and street with her smile. The photo has too little resolution and too many flash artifacts and doesn’t really capture the moment, but may be worth enlarging to see her smile.

Young woman in North Brighton shop

author · Dad
colophon · rights

February 06, 2004
· The World (144 fragments)
· · Places
· · · Australia (30 fragments)
· · · · Melbourne (2 more)

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