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 -  PAGE ONE 

Time runs out for retail's blast from the past

``It's not work, it's pleasure'' ... after 62 years, Gwen Gilchrist will close her door for good on June 30. Photo by RICK STEVENS

By JUDY ADAMSON

A boyish Bob Carr bought his school uniforms here. Knitters across the world have phoned or written in daily, looking for that elusive ball of wool. And since 1938, Miss Gwen Gilchrist has also been here, behind the old-fashioned counter at Gilchrist's, selling everything from embroidery yarn to vests.

``I'm not going to tell you how old I am, but I'm far too old to be working,'' she said with a laugh.

However, on June 30 just two months shy of her business's 62nd birthday Miss Gilchrist (Mrs Crichton, really, but she rarely answers to it) will close the door of her Maroubra store for good, because of the GST.

After checking the viability of the business from July 1, she found herself faced with a bill of $20,000 to make the changeover, plus the need to hire a new manager. It was more than she could face, so the sign went up announcing the closure.

``I haven't had a minute since I did that,'' she said. ``Some customers have been coming here for over 50 years and they're all coming in at the moment. I've had them sitting in the shop crying.''

One regular, Miss Vivi Bignold, has travelled to Maroubra from Artarmon for eight years to buy wool, and was ``very upset''.

``Nothing was ever too much trouble; you don't get that sort of service these days,'' she said.

It's not as though Gilchrist's is a shiny, up-to-date establishment. Walking in is like entering a retail time capsule of buttons, ribbons, zippers, cottons, needles, patterns, tapestries and ladies' nighties. The box-like wall shelves are packed to the ceiling with wool some of which goes back 20 years.

And then there's Miss Gilchrist's ``dear old cash register'': a huge, metal creation with wooden drawers that rings up in pounds, shillings and pence.

Mr Carr, the local MP, remembered being sold his high school blazer by Miss Gilchrist, and described the store as ``an institution in Maroubra''.

Miss Gilchrist recalled a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce that discussed updating the shopping district, ``after which Mr Carr came up to me and said `Don't ever change your place it's unique'.

``But with the GST I would have had to change. I didn't want to close ... because it's not work, it's pleasure, and I feel I have helped the customers. But on the 30th of June I'll walk out and close the door.''

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