Got a few hours to spare and a hankering to support local creators and makers? Indulge in a little retail therapy less than an hour’s drive from Canberra.
Yass is often dubbed a sleepy town, but it's starting to wake up – with food, shopping and a creative energy that's casting a new light on the community.
Posted by The RiotACT on Saturday, May 15, 2021
Where do old blankets go to die? If they’re lucky, they end up in Creators Nest on the top floor of the characterful Oddfellows’ Hall on Comur Street, Yass. Far from a sad pile of woollens languishing in a corner, however, you’ll be greeted by an intriguing selection of duffel bags, guitar covers and wallets, all fashioned from bedcovers decommissioned from their former lives, some with kangaroo leather detail.
The store is the brainchild of Marie-Nicole Roberts, a former screen-printer who turned her hand to recycling these pre-loved items and found there were many creatives just like her without a permanent shopfront in which to display their wares.
The small scale of production at this creative co-working space means you’ll find singular pieces, perfect as gifts or for keeping to yourself as a reward for finding a new shopping spot with such enormous potential. Felt hats and merino beanies handknitted in Yass vie for space with covetable ceramics, recycled metal jewellery, and locally made perfumes.
Artisans from across the region (and further afield if they fill a customer need, says Marie-Nicole) now display their goods at this spacious, gallery-style store set high above the main street. On-site manufacturing means customers can have clothing and other items tailor-made (I’ll be heading back for one of Marie-Nicole’s fabulous merino knit tops that double as a shrug and come in multiple colours).
Creators Nest is at 67 Comur Street, Yass.
Past and presents
The tiny village of Binalong, about 40 km northwest of Yass, is famous for its bushranger past. So much so that a shoot-out in the local park that brought an abrupt end to ‘Flash’ Johnny Gilbert’s nefarious ways was immortalised in a poem by Banjo Paterson (another local).
It seems only fitting that 2 Little Pigs, a caravan selling coffee and snacks in Pioneer Park, is run by the town’s two policewomen … a deterrent perhaps, to the threat of any more gunslinging breaking out amidst the bottlebrush. Cathy Kerslake’s shop, The Old Produce Store Binalong, also harks back to a bygone era. A mural running the length of an exterior wall bordering the park depicts the story of Gilbert’s demise and, inside, shoppers can peruse Cathy’s own range of Binalong Bushranger Blend products, including teas, chutneys, sauces, pickles, soaps and candles, as well a huge stock of locally handmade products from other small producers.
“My aim was always to support local creators and artisans,” Cathy says, and the proof is in the pudding. The store is packed to the gills with knick-knacks, homewares and foodstuffs, from cheese knives, crockery and glassware to goose and duck down cushions made by Cathy’s partner Nadja Zoffman, as well as artworks with a focus on the surrounding rural community.
There are enough condiments to keep a food hoarder happy for decades, whether it’s salty chunky peanut butter, olive oils, jams, drinking chocolate, nuts or a jar of pickles you’re looking for.
The Old Produce Store Binalong is at 25 Fitzroy Street, Binalong
The fabric’s so bright I should have worn shades. Exotic prints covering everything from kaftans and scarves to cushions and bedspreads are a clear indication that Merchant Campbell owner Margot Shannon has something of a travel bug … and a keen eye for beautiful things.
Margot’s eclectic store at the southern end of Comur Street houses a well-curated collection of homewares, artwork, jewellery, stationery and plant pots, much of it the result of her frequent travels to South East Asia where she has forged strong connections with local makers.
Ceramic bowls and vases from NSW business Good Hope Pottery are displayed in an old post-office counter imported from India, while vintage teak candle holders made from seed-spreaders once used by Indian farmers are a counterpoint to glass-cloched aromatherapy candles from The Grampians Goods Company.
“Nothing is mass-produced; I know the provenance of everything we sell. I’ve always had a big interest in handmade things and in Oriental art and design,” says Margot.
Handmade Indian jewellery and fabrics and Indonesian baskets of various shapes and sizes share space with Australian-made items, including whimsical paintings from Southern Highlands artist Justine Slough and flamboyant lamp bases in the shape of Aussie birds from Wagga-based mother-and-daughter business Studio Australia. I quite fancy rolling out the door on the impressive Rajasthani wooden temple horse on display next to a gaggle of ceramic quails, but fear it will be impossible to smuggle it into my house undetected, so leave well alone.
Merchant Campbell is at 287 Comur Street, Yass.
Horses for courses
It’s not every day you can pop into a shop and pick up a decorative platter for the mother-in-law, a jigsaw puzzle for the kids and a bit of bling for the horse. But Mill & Hide is that kind of place.
True to its rural roots and the farming background of owner Kate Lenehan who opened the shop with business partner John Sheahan last October, this gift, homewares and horse product shop really does aim to fulfil that ‘something for everyone’ promise.
I gravitate to the lovely display of Wonki Ware pottery every time I visit, which is perhaps why I’ve completely overlooked the intriguing selection of horsey paraphernalia that sits at the back of the store – beyond the living room furniture, Long Track Pantry condiments, kitchenware, lamps, children’s toys, jewellery, gift cards and clothing.
The well-dressed horse won’t go wrong here. In addition to shampoos and conditioners to keep one’s coat super-shiny and detangle troublesome tails, there are saddle blankets, leather bridles and breastplates – including the ultimate in showmanship, a selection of Swarovski crystal-encrusted Italian leather reins. Nothing tacky, mind.
Mill & Hide is at 125 Comur Street Yass.
Full of beans
All that shopping can leave a person parched, and Trader + Co appears like an oasis in the desert just off the main street. If it’s coffee you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Trader + Co roasts its own beans on-site with owners Daniel and Toni Neuhaus operating their ethical coffee company, Six8 Coffee Roasters, at the back of the premises. The spacious venue (cafe to the right as you enter, a display of ethically made and sourced food products, homewares and gifts from Yass Wholefoods to the left, open kitchen to the rear) is a convivial hangout for locals as much as visitors to the town. Everything is made on-site (bar the sourdough bread that’s sourced from Clementine Bakery just down the street).
Hot commodities include nachos, bacon and egg rolls or spinach and feta pastries, and a hearty range of homemade soups has just been introduced for winter.
“Our focus is on offering a great customer experience,” says Daniel.
“During COVID, we did a major reno, including moving the serving counter closer to the dining area so we could talk to our customers while we make the coffee. Our slogan is wholesome food, specialty coffee and great community.”
Trader + Co is at 92 Meehan Street, Yass.
To plan your visit to the venues in this story, and other Yass Valley highlights, visit Yass Valley.