Blackbutt’s Coulson Street was a hive of activity on Wednesday morning as eager Timbertowners rushed to take a look inside the town’s long-awaited – and much-debated – new supermarket for the first time.
Workers had been stocking shelves and running final tests on various systems for a fortnight ahead of the big opening day.
The new Blackbutt IGA opened its doors at 9:00am, and streams of eager shoppers kept coming through them all day.
The supermarket’s opening has capped off an unusual deal between the South Burnett Regional Council and the supermarket’s owners, Breezeway Developments Pty Ltd.
The deal saw Breezeway shift the Blackbutt Memorial Hall to a new site near the Blackbutt Showgrounds so the company could obtain title to the land the hall used to sit on, then build a supermarket there.
The idea was proposed by former South Burnett Mayor Wayne Kratzmann, and Blackbutt residents agreed to it by a 300-to-5 margin at a public meeting held at the Memorial Hall in September 2014.
At the time, Blackbutt was the only major South Burnett town that didn’t have a modern supermarket.
Residents were forced to travel to Yarraman or Kilcoy if they wanted to do a trolley shop.
The lack of supermarket shopping facilities was also blamed for depressed real estate prices in the district.
While it was originally hoped the supermarket could begin operating in December 2016, the development turned out to be a complex four-year process.
Blackbutt IGA manager Steve Maller, who is also a director of Breezeway Developments, said the company ended up spending more than $500,000 to move and upgrade the Memorial Hall in exchange for the two corner blocks of land it sat on … which were valued about $100,000 each.
But the result had been worth it.
Blackbutt’s Memorial Hall had been preserved and significantly improved and the town now had a modern supermarket with prices that should match those of Kingaroy stores.
Steve, who oversaw the Memorial Hall’s relocation and upgrade as well as the supermarket’s construction, said he had set the new store’s prices “as low as we could go, but still manage to turn a profit”.
He had originally expected to turn the building over to other operators but had now decided to run it himself.
“I like Blackbutt, I like the people and I want to help the community,” he said.
“It wasn’t a very hard decision to make.”
Steve admits he may have over-invested in the project but said he had no regrets about the work his company carried out on the Hall.
“To make the main entrance wheelchair-accessible without using a ramp, we had to mount the Hall on a new steel base. That was a very costly thing to do but the end result means the Hall is now accessible to anyone,” Steve said.
“Just painting the Hall cost $60,000, and there were a lot of other costs we hadn’t originally expected as well.”
Did he ever think of walking away from the project?
“There were a couple of times when it crossed my mind,” Steve admitted.
“I found the Council were good and forthright to deal with, but they were also very strict.
“But now sometimes I drive by the Hall at night and just look at it because I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do for the town.”
The new supermarket has a 26-bay sealed car park at the rear connected by a concrete footpath to the front of the building.
There is also some vacant land next to the Coulson Street footpath.
Steve said there were no immediate plans for using this vacant area but it was being kept to allow for future expansion.
Apart from bringing trolley shopping to the Timbertowns, the new shop has also brought jobs … 15 of them, in fact.
Steve said all the positions have gone to local residents.
If trading figures justify it, there could also be another 10 jobs in the works as well.
“A store this size can support 25 jobs,” Steve said.
“But we’ll have to wait and see what our normal trading days are like so we can work out what staffing levels we’ll need.”
Steve is also hoping to limit the effect on the Blackbutt-Benarkin community of the South Burnett Regional Council’s proposed community grants cuts.
“I’ve been working with Cr ‘Spud’ Jones, and we believe we can use IGA’s community grants scheme to help 12 to 15 local community groups keep meeting their goals if the cuts go ahead,” he said.
“We won’t fully know what we’ll be able to do until trade settles down, but Cr Jones expects to be able to make an announcement about this at his next community briefing in about six to eight weeks from now.”
Cr Jones also dropped in for a visit on Wednesday, and said he was astonished at the number of shoppers he saw and the number of full trolleys they were pushing.
“I could see that some people had just come out of curiosity, but even most of those left with one or two items under their arms.”
Cr Jones said one woman he spoke to was so happy the supermarket had opened she burst into tears as he was talking to her.
“This supermarket means so much to so many people in Blackbutt,” Cr Jones said.
“Everyone’s had to wait a bit longer for it than we originally expected but I think everyone will agree it was worth the wait.”
Final landscaping and an official opening ceremony for the store is expected to occur towards the end of the month.
The official opening will feature the unveiling of a plaque at the front of the complex.