It was back in the 1920s when Thomas Frawley had a brainwave. Canberra was in its infancy, with work in full swing to build the new capital city.
There were workers everywhere. People were brought in from around the country to help establish the national capital. And what could all the workers not do without? Good workboots.
So, thought the enterprising Thomas, why not take the boots to the people?
From then on, he would pack up the family’s trusty Model T Ford, boots and all, and hit the worksites. But it wasn’t just workboots. Dancing pumps and sandshoes were all the rage – and the biggest sellers at the time.
This was the beginning of a Canberra institution – Frawley’s Shoes – with its motto, “Comfort since 1927”, almost as well known as its place in the Canberra retail industry.
But after 95 years, Frawley’s will close its doors early next year, a victim of the pandemic, a change in shoe-buying habits and a dearth of Frawleys to keep the business running.
Grandaughter of the founder, Lisa Mudge, 61, who has managed the Garema Place store for 14 years, said the decision to close was far from easy for the family.
“We spent a lot of time talking about it,” she said. “If I was 10 years younger, maybe I could continue, but no. None of the kids want to take it over.
“It was a tough decision for the family to make. It certainly wasn’t made in five minutes.”
Lisa, a third-generation Frawley, said her father, Ted, 87, had spent some time in the Garema Place store this week talking to long-time customers and reminiscing about the old days.
“We set up first in Queanbeyan,” Ted said, “upstairs at the Royal Hotel was where we kept a lot of stock.
“Then we opened a shop downstairs in Crawford Street before moving to Monaro Street next to where the Star Theatre was because that’s where all the traffic was at JB Young’s Department Store – it’s about where the Queanbeyan Raiders Club is today.”
By 1958, the flagship store in Garema Place was opened. Over the ensuing years, all the other shops amalgamated until it was just the one shop in Civic rather than the others scattered across Canberra.
Part of its recipe for success, Lisa said, was the fact it stayed in the family. All the children, the grandchildren and the cousins worked in the shop part-time, “we all did”.
“But none of the kids want to take it on now. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to close.
“But the main thing was COVID,” she said. “I talked to my Dad about it and he said, in his 70 years working, he had never come across anything like it.”
But she said the family had been overwhelmed by the kind words from customers this week after news of the closure came out.
“People have been so kind, saying it’s really sad we’re closing. It was good that Dad was in the shop this week so he could catch up with a lot of people.”
But there’s no way the Frawley name will move too far from Canberra – or Queanbeyan. Lisa and her husband ran Byrnes Mill Restaurant at Queanbeyan, and at least once a year, COVID permitting, the Frawleys gather together.
“Dad is one of seven,” Lisa said. “So it’s always great when everyone meets. We got together at Telopea Park a month or so ago and there were about 65 people through at different times, most of them coming from between Sydney and Canberra.
“We try to name a date each year to get together but with COVID, it’s been hard.”
Lisa said no firm plans had been made about when Frawley’s would finally close its doors, although she estimated probably around February next year.
She’s not sure what she’ll be doing, except that there’ll be some sort of holiday on the cards for her.
“But I will certainly miss the shop, especially the people,” she said.
“I love the ones that come in and tell us their parents brought them in for their school shoes back in the day.”
Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.