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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Seeking Canberra’s oldest businesses

What are Canberra’s oldest surviving businesses? That is the question the Canberra Business Council is asking in a bid to celebrate their achievements.

According to Canberra Business Chamber CEO, Dr Michael Schaper, longevity is a remarkable achievement in business. Nationally, he said the average business won’t last longer than 10 to 15 years, while “the average life expectancy of a business based in Canberra is still only about five years”.

“But we also know many businesses thrive and grow. We want to find the oldest surviving businesses.”

Dr Schaper said this year marks more than 70 years that the Chamber has been operating, “and we want to celebrate those individual businesses that have also been here for the long term”.

Some existing Chamber members have particularly long life spans including Corkhill Brothers (established 1954), WR Engineering (1967), and Watson Blinds & Awnings (founded 1969).

He said often such long-term businesses are “ clearly focussed on a particular industry” and “know what they do and do it well”, in addition to anchoring themselves in the Canberra community and having a strong family history.

National Family Business Day was held on Thursday 19 September and, according to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, “are the lifeblood of our communities and key contributors to our economy”.

Locally, family business Frawley’s Shoes has been operating in Canberra for the past 92 years. It remains in the family’s hands three generations on, with the Garema Place store managed by Lisa Frawley.

“My family started selling shoes in the 1920s from the back of a T-Model Ford truck,” Mrs Frawley said. “When Parliament House was being built, they’d drive the truck up to sell the workers their boots. I guess my grandfather knew a business opportunity when he saw one.”

Canberra’s oldest businesses will be celebrated at the Chamber’s annual gala dinner on 7 November at the National Museum of Australia, with the theme ‘Canberra Business: Then, Now and Always’.

“We’re hoping Canberrans will help us identify who they are,” Dr Schaper said. “While some names are well known to us, others are not. But they’re all important, and they’re all part of the history of our town.”

If you have any information on Canberra’s oldest businesses, email [email protected] or call 6247 4199.

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