18 April 2024

'I can't keep struggling': Spence Butchery to close after 30-plus years

| James Coleman
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sign on butcher's window

Spence Butchery has been operating in Glassey Place for more than 30 years. Photo: Belco60 Facebook.

It’s been in business for over 30 years, but the past three have been the hardest for Spence’s local butchery.

Perhaps surprisingly, the slew of public health restrictions over COVID actually worked in its favour. When residents were encouraged to stay in their local area, they turned to Spence Butchery in Glassey Place rather than the supermarket whenever they needed fresh meat on the table.

The result was the usual pre-COVID figure of 30 customers a day turned into 60.

But those days are over, and even after cutting his hours down from 12 a day to nine, owner Tony Doyle has been left with little choice but to shut up shop and put all the equipment up for sale.

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A note on his front door reads: “Spence Butchery will be shutting its doors for the final time on 20 April. Thank you for your support over the last few years. Regretfully, Tony.”

The shop opened more than 30 years ago, which makes it as old as the building it’s in.

“We have customers who were children when it opened and now bring their children in,” Tony says.

butcher shop display

Many Canberrans started shopping at local butcheries during COVID-19 due to movement restrictions. Photo: Spence Butchery, Facebook.

Tony, then 27, became an apprentice under the original owner-operator in 2004 and took over ownership a few years later, in 2007.

“My stepfather was a butcher, and I’d done a few jobs after school at his meat works and was looking for some permanent employment after my security career,” he explains.

“I decided to take a pay cut and get a trade.”

It didn’t take him long to make the menu his own with the South African boerewors sausage and lamb patties with cheese wrapped in pastry.

He’s also had a few casual employees over the years, including his niece.

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However, as COVID faded into the background, rising costs and dwindling income dealt a hard blow.

“Usually, after school, the car park would be full with people buying everything, and we’d get a couple of families, but no one would be buying huge amounts of meat,” he says.

“I can’t keep struggling and taking out more loans, so unfortunately, I’m pretty much back at square one before I bought the business.”

Many customers had “seen the writing on the wall”, but it was still a shock.

“They’re all sorry to see the place go, as it has been an institution for such a long time,” Tony says.

“But they’re all wishing me the best.”

Butcher Tony Doyle

Tony Doyle began at Spence Butchery as an apprentice in 2004. Photo: Tony Doyle.

Tony will move into a new role at a strata management company, owned by one of his loyal customers. Customers are the part of the job he’ll miss the most.

“I thoroughly enjoy that over-the-counter conversation with the customers, plus being able to work with my hands and create something that somebody is actually going to enjoy,” he says.

The Spence Butchery at Glassey Place, Spence, is open from 7 am to 3 pm. Its last day of trading is Saturday, 20 April.

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So many small businesses out there struggling at the moment. All wondering how long they can hang on before the economy turns around. Bigger businesses can take the blows better and scale back. Businesses like this have fewer options and also sadly will never come back.

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