It’s said to be the busiest Woolworths store in Australia (and the one with the most counts of shoplifting).
But as of yesterday (20 September), Dickson Woolies has a new and glittering supermarket rival in Coles (and associated Liquorland), mere metres away in the Dickson Village development.
The $70-million project has been almost a decade in the making, from when the development application was first lodged and Aldi was floated as a possibility to when Coles signed a deal with local construction company TP Dynamics in 2021 to finally make it happen.
ACT Chief Minister and Dickson resident Andrew Barr was joined by staff from Coles and TP Dynamics on Wednesday morning to officially cut the ribbon and declare the store open.
“One of the most frequently asked questions for me over the last decade is when is Dickson getting its second supermarket,” he said.
“It’s taken a little while to get here, but it has definitely been worth the wait. I want to acknowledge the team at TP Dynamics and everyone who’s worked on the project for what they’ve contributed to the renewal of Dickson that achieves many positive outcomes for the community: more housing, more competition for essential services and a wonderful renewal of this Dickson precinct.”
Sandy Picker and Rita Schiavello were among the crowd of locals who turned out for the occasion. Both were born in Queanbeyan but moved to Canberra – Sally aged 14 and Rita 12 – and remember when it was the turn of Dickson Woolworths to open back in 1966.
“When we used to come to Dickson Shops, there were no pavers,” Rita recalls.
“We would be sloshing in the mud, but it wouldn’t stop us from running to Woolies.”
Sandy’s first job was with the local supermarket before she worked her way up to union delegate over her 14 years there. She still works in the area, albeit now part-time in the Dickson Newsagency.
“You see very interesting sights in supermarkets, believe you me,” she says.
Over the years, the store has gathered a reputation as an attraction for those sleeping rough, likely drawn by the busyness of the site as well as a number of charities that operate in the area, including Vinnies and further up Northbourne Avenue, the Early Morning Centre.
Rita says the numbers have shrunk since the new building has arrived.
“A lot of people used to sleep outside, but with this new building, they’ve stopped all that.”
Both Rita and Sandy are pleased to see the competition, even if it’s not quite Aldi.
“Woolies need a lot of competition,” Sandy says.
“A lot of people were hoping for an Aldi, but I’ll be happy with Coles just to have the competition.”
Michael Grayson has called the suburb home for 20 years and says Woolies “used to be a lot better and cleaner” but that a lack of competition in the area hasn’t spurred them on to “lift their game”.
“They are better Woolworths stores in Canberra – the Majura Park one is fantastic – which are a lot more spacious with a much bigger range.”
He says many people didn’t like the underground-type feel of the entry to the Woolies, while the combination of dull lighting and rough paving would often bring on vertigo-like symptoms among the elderly visitors.
“I think [Coles] is going to be a game-changer,” he says.
“It’s got a lot of features the select Sydney and Melbourne stores have, like the dessert bar, the pet section, an open bakery, much larger delicatessen section, and they’re also highlighting Australian growers, so there’s a bigger cheese selection.
“A lot of the locals are very excited. They’re just disappointed it wasn’t an Aldi.”
Dickson Village is two to seven storeys high and also includes 140 residential units. Coles shares the ground floor with Bubu Ice Cream and Dessert, J&J Hair, Sharetea, Sushi & More, Cincotta Chemist, and Lashbrow Beauty. There is public basement parking for about 450 vehicles.
Woolworths Australia declined to comment.