15 March 2024

Sally’s artistic retail journey creates Something Special

| John Thistleton
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Sally Kimber’s gung-ho enthusiasm left no room for doubt when she offered her folk art for sale and took a hunch on opening a shop.

Sally Kimber’s gung-ho enthusiasm left no room for doubt when she offered her folk art for sale and took a hunch on opening a shop. Photo: Richard Boeck.

Three experiences preceded the stunning success of Sally Kimber as a retailer in the 1990s in Goulburn, in the face of horrendously high rents.

Her first was tagging along with her mother Dorothea Kimber on buying trips to gift fairs for wholesalers in Sydney and Melbourne for Dorothea’s little shop upstairs in the Huntley Arcade, ‘Something Special’.

Second was Sally’s folk art which she honed through high school, which she exhibited in the then Park Lane Gallery in Goulburn and taught at night after she joined the workforce.

Thirdly was working for a canny furniture retailer, John Craig, who quickly spotted her creative flair and gave her free rein hand-drawing advertisements for the newspaper, voicing ads on radio and doing his window displays in Goulburn’s main street.

READ ALSO Sydney developer buys former Conolly’s Mill in Goulburn

When Craig’s expanded next door in Auburn Street opening bedding and manchester, Sally ran that and designed the store fit-out. All the while she was polishing her retailing skills.

Hand-painted folk art was in its infancy when she began painting subjects including milk cans, watering cans and flower pots. “I would paint those during the week and sell them at markets on weekends,” she said. “I started a party plan selling new things that fitted the same style or genre – country antique reproductions. That went through the roof. I couldn’t keep up with the demand of a full-time job plus this on the weekends and at night.”

Much like Sally and her husband, young couples were buying and renovating older homes and travelling to Bowral and Mittagong to find items to decorate their places.

So in 1991 she rented a little shop part-time at the rear of the Eldorado Arcade, a block away from the main street, and had a butcher and hairdresser for neighbours. The rent was cheap.

“I would sit in my shop and do my painting and sell that and the collection of giftware I had curated,” she said. “I started off with $2000 worth of stock; I had no capital behind me. It clicked.”

Falling pregnant, Sally began rethinking plans for her two-year-old venture when hairdresser and regular customer Michelle Cumming and her husband Ian proposed a partnership. She readily agreed.

A sample of Sally Kimber's work.

A sample of Sally Kimber’s work. Photo: Sally Kimber.

They moved next door to Sidwells Retrovision and their rent skyrocketed 900 per cent. The new partners rolled up their sleeves doing the fit-out themselves. She moved the timber fireplace from her previous shop to the new one, Ian made the counter and they used secondhand furniture, now a trend in shop fittings, throughout the remainder of their space.

Trading opposite Belmore Park and near Russell Lane proved ideal, with tourist foot traffic joining a stream of local customers.

“Michelle had a wonderful flair for decorating and she was so good with people,” Sally said. “Being a hairdresser, she knew most of the women in the town, so it was a really great partnership.”

Sally had several outlets for her creativity.

In the cast of the Lieder Theatre (front row, second from left), Sally had several outlets for her creativity. Photo: Lieder Theatre.

In 1998 the women faced eviction as Sidwells decided to expand. They needed new premises, but finding a suitable shop on Auburn Street was nearly impossible.

“There were just a few men that owned basically every shop in Goulburn, great swathes of real estate along Auburn Street. The state of those buildings, they were in shocking disrepair,” Sally said.

In her opinion, greedy businessmen wanted a monopoly and were frightened of new money coming into the town. “They were very big fish in a very small pond,” she said.

In 1999 developers proposed expanding the Argyle Mall (now Goulburn Square), and building over Goldsmith Street, igniting furious debates which split the business community. The Chamber of Commerce thought it was a terrible idea.

After leaving Goulburn Sally worked at the National Zoo's retail shop

After leaving Goulburn Sally worked at the National Zoo’s retail shop and increased its turnover exponentially and later ran the Australian Parliament House gift shop for three years, and organised book signings. She is with ABC journalist and author Kerry O’Brien. Photo: Kimber family collection.

“I spoke for the expansion and against the Chamber of Commerce at the time,” she said. “In the end they invited me to join the Chamber of Commerce. I was on their board from 2000 – 2001 and on the tourism committee. People like Don McKay, Carol James and Steve Swadling were great people, great supporters and friends. And even though John Guthrie and Neil Penning were initially the ones I butted heads with over the whole Triple C development, they were fantastic blokes,” she said.

In 2002 Sally reluctantly sold the business and moved with her partner to Canberra. She returns to Goulburn occasionally, likes the vibrancy of Auburn Street and cherishes a time when her creativity and imagination took flight and soared.

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