It’s little wonder that talented women such as Margot Shannon and Kate Lenehan, of Yass, created spaces that have moved well beyond their brief as shops.
Their businesses – one a cornerstone of the town’s main street that recently moved into larger premises and the other something completely new – are brimming with well-travelled homewares and gifts that each tell a story.
Merchant Campbell, which opened in August 2017, represents Margot’s travels through India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco and Australia to find ethically-made products by individuals or small businesses.
“I’ve always wanted to find the thing a country makes best – the thing that represents a skill handed down through generations,” Margot said.
The result is a treasure trove of ornate pots and door handles, rattan lampshades and delicate scarves screen printed in Kashmir from woven Australian wool.
It’s a far cry from when Margot was working as a senior staffer for politician Katrina Hodgkinson. But when the Member of Parliament moved office from Yass to Young, Margot decided to skip the commute and set up her own shop locally with husband Chris.
“I’ve always loved shopping and talking to people,” Margot said.
The bright and bubbly business owner worked for Canberra homeware stores Flair and Freedom while at university, so stepping into retail wasn’t entirely new.
And in December 2020, she took another step forward with Merchant Campbell by moving into a larger space inside what was Timber’s Original Bakery.
This has allowed Margot to expand the homeware and furniture range, but also catch the 6000 customers who drive through Yass every day.
Unlike the busy main street where parking can be a nightmare, there are at least eight car spaces designated to the shop with more parking located on the side and front streets.
“It was scary moving away from the CBD but business has been really good. People come here with a purpose – they come to shop.”
Over at Mill & Hide, which is on the main street, Kate has created a store that represents the Buy from the Bush campaign.
In a bid to be different, Kate has sourced uniquely designed cushions, cute kids clothes and even gem-studded bridles from individuals – mostly women trying to diversify their farm business – across rural Australia.
“To showcase this is fun because not everyone is on the internet,” Kate said.
“Our slogan is, ‘An ever-changing range of everything and anything’. I wanted to support the local bush people and bring together products that aren’t everywhere.”
Mill & Hide has also represented a change in direction for Kate who, until the opening in October, was running her other business – a livestock agency, AgStock in Tumut, Gundagai and Yass.
Like Margot, running a shop had also been a dream of Kate’s for some time.
“Twenty years ago I wanted to be one of the first people to run an online homeware and gift shop, but 20 years ago that was a bit of a challenge and especially for me who has no IT skills,” Kate said.
“Then, when we came to Yass with AgStock, we wanted to be part of the town and the best way to be part of the town is to have a business on the main street and because of my 20-year-old dream we looked at this.”
The bonus is that Kate hasn’t had to venture out alone, with her AgStock business partner since 2003 – John Sheahan – also backing Mill & Hide.
As for the name, it’s an affectionate nod to the windmills dotted across Australia’s countryside and Kate’s cattle business and farm.
Both women have changed the face of their spaces into light, airy, inviting places to shop and look forward to welcoming you in.