Christmas in Bredbo a half-year career
Leanne de Smet at work at the Bredbo Christmas Barn, where she reckons she will be for some time yet. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
A bricks and mortar retail revolution is under way in the sleepy town of Bredbo, an hour's drive from Canberra.
With only 200 residents in the hamlet on the main thoroughfare to the NSW skifields, the Bredbo Christmas Barn seems an unlikely hero for the struggling retail sector, especially when that success has been built on a physical rather than an online presence.
Former Canberra residents Leanne and Neville de Smet decided to close their long-running Woden and Civic stores and open a little hobby store in 2005.
But seven years later their idea for a Christmas-only boutique has become a big business and an attraction in its own right, drawing customers from as far as Melbourne and Sydney.
''It's grown and grown and last year we had the extension, so floor space has tripled to a bit over 5000 square feet in size and that's brought new customers,'' Mrs de Smet said.
Santa might use the North Pole for his workshop, but Bredbo is where Canberrans go for decorations and Mrs de Smet said sales had increased by 14 per cent on last year.
''The store has been going really well and we've had an increase in people and money, which is not too bad considering the current state of the nation.''
And the pair has chosen to buck the on-line trend.
''Most of our sales are from customers coming through the door. We don't do an online store. It's all about making people feel good - it's the wow factor, it's not something you could replicate online,'' she said.
The couple spends four months of the year preparing the shop and setting up displays for the peak season, which are taken down and put up again from scratch. The barn opens to customers from June to December.
''November is usually the busiest time but I have to say the beginning of December has been really busy - busier than we would be normally at this time of year. Generally people put trees up on the first of December, but it may have crept up on some people because we're still selling Christmas trees.''
The store is awash with colour and glitter, with hand blown and decorated glass ornaments alongside life-size Santas.
''Neville and I are the head elves … we don't think we are the North Pole, but we do a fairly good imitation.''
And at 53, Mrs de Smet has no intention of slowing down.
''I can't see them cancelling Christmas any time soon so I guess I'll be in business for a long time yet.''