What makes a great rural town, if not its community?

Here are two stories I have heard today, relating to how communities work – or don’t – in regional Western Australia.

The first is a sad story; one that I was surprised to hear. There’s a butcher in a wheatbelt town, operating his shop for some years and a strong community supporter. Across the road is the local IGA store and for years, they did not directly compete, each allowing the other to specialise in their respective markets.

Recently, and apparently out of the blue, the IGA owner decided to compete directly with the butcher. The previously reasonably strong relationship has become (perhaps, not surprisingly) toxic and it threatens to divide a community. This move is a threat to the livelihood of the butcher. The impact of this business strategy has the potential to affect families, local sporting clubs, the vibe of the town and the community at large.

This is the world of free enterprise and I would certainly not advocate any means to legally enforce the IGA manager to change his ideas. However, I would appeal to the community to remember that this is not about the comparative price of a lamb chop; it’s about all the elements that comprise a community.

Is the community going to be better or worse off with open warfare by two businesses?

And will it be better off if one is forced to close?


I described this situation to another butcher I happen to know who, in the past, operated a shop in another town not too far away from the previous one.

They had an almost identical scenario – but for one notable exception. In this case, the IGA manager purchased his meat from the butcher at full retail price and sold it frozen. He then added a margin for the “convenience shopper” who would usually be buying out of normal hours.

His IGA masters said they wanted him to sell meat, and buy it from IGA. He refused. Other IGA’s were going into fast food, making pizzas. He did not follow suit. That was the domain of the local café. The café owner purchased pizza meat from the butcher. They all supported local sporting groups.

My butcher friend’s wife recently went back to that town. “It’s still a pleasant place to go back to”, she said. “After 10 years, I still get smiles and hugs!” And all the shops that existed then are still open today.

Which town is a better place to live?

Which has the stronger community?

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John Matthew

What John Matthew believes about small business

That the owner has risked many things that others take for granted;

That there is no guaranteed income or reward for the considerable effort that is required;

That often, the family home is on the line to support the business and its constituents;

That there is a dignity and self-respect that is earned;

That entire communities would be better places if there was an increased appreciation and respect for small business.

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