Main Street Pakenham’s longest trading business Terry’s Pakenham Discounts is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.
Store owner Terry Baldwin, who has become known for his eccentric manner and dress sense, recalled his early days of working in the township before Main Street had pedestrian crossings.
He has witnessed many changes across the region since 1986 when he began trading.
“It took 11 minutes to get to the South Eastern Freeway in Dandenong from Pakenham,” Mr Baldwin said.
“There were no traffic lights, only lights at a pedestrian crossing in Officer. There were no childcare facilities in Pakenham, or gyms, and only one retirement village.
“In May 1994 the council changed the streetscape of Main Street without consulting any traders and someone forgot to include a pedestrian crossing in the plans. I remember asking them how we were supposed to cross the street.
“For about two weeks Main Street was blocked off to traffic. It was like a ghost town.”
He said Pakenham Discounts had felt the impact of Target and Woolworths and experienced a 20 per cent drop in sales shortly after each store opened.
With the growing competition, Mr Baldwin has been challenged to constantly diversify his stock, and provide other services or stock to meet the personalised needs of his customers such as replacing watch batteries.
Prior to opening shop in Pakenham Mr Baldwin had worked at McDonalds and throughout the early ’80s he had worked his way up to a role as shift manager at Woolworths before becoming a 7-Eleven auditor.
In November ’86 Terry used all of his savings to take over the Pakenham Discounts business that had been launched by a friend’s father 12 months earlier.
He said it had been a chance decision.
“I gave my mate’s dad a hand at selling his final stock because he was closing the store down. It was being used to sell excess stock from his warehouse,” Mr Baldwin said.
“I was a bit cheeky and would wear purple shorts while working for a bit of fun, and I got a great response from customers.
“I just got a bit of a good vibe and decided to give it a go. It was a low risk decision at the time.”
For the first 10 years he traded with a one-year lease.
The initial average customer count was 35. Pakenham Discounts had just two wholesalers and rent was $120 a week.
The business sometimes now sees more than 200 customers through its doors and deals with about 70 wholesalers from across Australia.
The Baldwins have lived in Berwick since 1998 and were married at the iconic Clover Cottage.
His wife Emma is heavily involved with the business’ bookwork as well as ordering in stock and she also works in the store, juggling her occupational therapist job while raising their two children, 10-year-old Tyler and two-year-old Elisha.
Loyal staff member Chionia Ellis, who now plays an important role in the shop, was once a regular customer who would often bring her three daughters in to the store.
Mr Baldwin said he now has about 30 regular customers who are over 90 years old and he also serves third generation customers.
He said there are many challenges facing retailers – the rising cost of rent, the popularity and convenience of online shopping, shop theft and lack of support from the council.
“There is no chamber of commerce for Pakenham traders. We formed a business group that only lasted a couple of years because half of Main Street is banks and real estate, and shops in Pakenham Place and Marketplace have their own agenda,” he said.
“Poor John Street is really struggling.
“There needs to be a joint venture with the support of an impartial council delegate for it to work because, in the end, any trader would come with their own bias.
“I think some form of traders’ group is critical for the future success of Main Street.”
Mr Baldwin said his business has adapted to the changing demands of residents throughout the years.
“For the past 10 years, sales haven’t gone up at the same rate as rent has risen,” he said.“But I’ve worked too hard to get to this point to walk away.
“But I’ve worked too hard to get to this point to walk away.
“Over the years we’ve expanded our dress ups, our crafts have tripled and we would have the biggest ribbon section in Victoria.
“Our store has become a reflection of what our customers ask for.”
Originally published at Pakenham Officer News.