Why online shopping is killing more than just the department store

Stock image.
Stock image.

LAST month I was saddened to hear the news that dozens of Big W stores were facing the axe following reports the discount chain store was losing millions in profits, writes Belinda Cipriano.

While the stores in question remain unknown a list of 30 rural stores including Bunbury has been circulating online.

While I understand profits are important, stores like Big W are such a large part of the fabric of a community.

They’re where young people get a chance at landing their first job, a job that can last a lifetime, and you meet so many wonderful people that can become part of your life.

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I grew up in Cockburn in the 90s and working at Big W Phoenix Park was a rite of passage, every teenager wanted to turn 14 and nine months to be given a chance at being a “checkout chick”.

My girlfriend Brenda and I applied together and with a family friend’s glowing reference I got my check out licence and began working there on Thursday nights and Saturdays.

In those days, there were no scanners and you’d have to punch in every number of the barcode at lightning speed to get through the queues of customers.

And boy were there queues.

The toe tapping, the sighs and disgruntled customers made it all the much more fun.

I don’t remember my first boss but I do remember smoking was still allowed in shopping centres as all the floor staff butted out their ciggies in front of Misty’s Café.

It was certainly a different time.

My first crush and Year 12 ball partner was the super charming and efficient refund counter specialist, who was a Joe McIntyre lookalike and a massive spunk.

Everyone wanted to work with him because he was just so damn nice.

In fact it wasn’t just him who was nice, the whole place was filled with nice people.

The door ladies Judy, Muriel, Vicky, Pat and Brenda greeted everyone with the warmest of smiles and were like local celebrities, everyone knew them.

The floor staff Jody, Lee-Anne, Roxanne, Margaret and Rebecca knew every department and item on that floor and were ready to help customers at the drop of a hat.

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Staff at Big W became lifelong friends. Picture: File image

Then there was the staff behind the scenes who worked so hard getting stock into the back dock, counted and sorted ready for the floor.

I worked in that department too, in fact I remember my first day there.

I was told to wear casual clothes so I wore thongs, only to be run out the door and sent home to change by the manager Joe, who couldn’t believe I was going to lift heavy boxes and pull pallets in thongs.

Joe became like a second dad to me and so many more while the other guys in that department were all my big brothers.

It really was like a family unit.

So many young people started their careers there, brought family members along and stayed for years.

I worked there for eight years during my school life and my sisters both worked there about 10 years.

Many people left and came back, knowing once you worked at that store, you were family.

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A few years ago one of the store’s longest and most favourite employees passed away suddenly, Mary the store’s refund counter supervisor.

She trained me, my crush and so many other employees who walked through that door and she was loved by everyone.

On the day of her funeral hundreds of colleagues, former staff and customers turned out to pay their respects to Mary, who was more than just the refund lady, she was family.

The online world clicked us all into the 21st century ,but unfortunately left so much of the good stuff behind including basic human interaction and the sense of community you feel when walking into “your” local store.

And that’s the real shame, because you’ll never get memories like this while emptying out your online shopping cart.