At 38, Elizabeth Willis, who Upper Lachlan Shire residents know as Billie, put her office job on hold to pursue her dream of running a retail space for local artisans.
On 1 February, 2021, that dream became a reality as the doors opened to Ensemble & Co inside the old bank at 75 Goulburn Street in Crookwell.
Not many people know the building that started selling drapery, hardware and agricultural supplies in 1919 burnt to the ground on 21 October, 1938.
In its place rose a grand Art Deco building with arched window and marble entrance. Magnificent wooden counters were made and are still in use.
Lancelot Harold Denning of Crookwell took up the first lease and offered furnishings. It was later occupied by stock and station agent, Pitt, Son and Badgery, and eventually became a rural bank. It’s purpose-built strong room still exists out the back.
Today, the building plays host to a nursery, homewares, clothing, furniture, jewellery, gifts, art, homecooked meals ready for takeaway and local seasonal produce.
Managing more than 20 local businesses within one store is a rewarding and demanding undertaking, says Billie.
“There is so much to promote locally – it is a seemingly endless task of talent and fantastic offerings,” she says.
Billie and her husband, Adrian, worked closely with the building’s owners to showcase the grand internal architecture.
Walking into Ensemble & Co, your eye is drawn to the high vaulted timber ceiling and wooden beams. The store is cleverly designed with antique white bays to showcase each store within the premises, and a centred, original timber aisle leading to a well-stocked nursery at the rear of the building.
The Crookwell Nursery is a relaxing spot to enjoy a coffee and talk to resident horticulturalist Courtney Haywood Whipp.
There’s more at the entrance, too, with a coffee bar serving brews and cakes every weekend.
Adrian has been passionate about coffee for many years, often trialling new brews on visitors at home and even selling coffee beans locally with the assistance of his and Billie’s daughter, Betsy.
You’ll find Adrian behind the coffee bar as your moustache-wielding barista on weekends.
Billie and Adrian have always had strong ties with the community. Both of them were raised in the area, and have been part of many community groups during the years. True to their nature, this project has become bigger than themselves.
Seeing Crookwell develop, change and grow significantly in the past couple of years, the couple wanted to continue to build upon the momentum that is sweeping the area.
The desire for their coffee bar to be opened during the week as well as on weekends, to locals and tourists alike, is such that Billie and Adrian are currently looking for someone to lease this part of the business.
That would give the couple more time to grow the ensemble and organise events. So far, Ensemble & Co has thrown a fashion parade, paint and sip, candle making, and ceramic and garden design workshops, giving locals more reason to call Crookwell home.
And with the new Airbnb, Mister Munro, next door, Crookwell is well worth the trip.
“Within the shire, we have so many points of interest,” says Billie. “I love telling people about our shire, and with recent lockdowns, it is incredible realising how many of our visitors were from Sydney.
“Travellers – many on motorcycles – tell us they enjoy the Goulburn-Crookwell-Laggan-Taralga loop. It is a picturesque drive of rolling hills, seasonal landscapes, rivers and historical buildings. We obviously love hearing this as they can enjoy a coffee and retail splurge at Ensemble & Co at either end of the trip.”
Ensemble & Co is located at 75 Goulburn Street, Crookwell, and is open Thursday to Monday from 10 am to 4 pm.