Sunday, 25 October 2009

Thermopylae on Sydney Road


As everyone knows, Brunswick is the sister city of Sparta. I happen to live in the Spartan centre of Brunswick, nestled between various Spartan homes who have found a new land in which to make dolmadis and amigtholata.

We have the Sparta Club, where the elders congregate under the portraits of Spartan heroes to play backgammon. And we have Sparta Place, which has recently become an epicentre for neo-Brunswick, the second wave of gentrifiers (I was in the first wave).

As the Spartans have risen in power locally, they have clearly found the ear of local government and now their great hero King Leonidas is going to be honoured with a bronze bust. According to a recent Age report, Neo-Brunswick is not amused:

I suggest that we try to restage the original battle between Spartans and Persians in Brunswick. We should pit the military discipline of Leonidas against the seductive Persian poetry of Rumi:


Rumi is the name of the restaurant in Lygon Street Brunswick that became the Mecca for neo-Brunswick, combining the Levantine heritage of the suburb with its new generation of connoisseurs.

Souvlaki versus Biranyi – history awakes in Brunswick!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The disappearing pharmacy of Santiago: A cautionary tale


In Santiago is a district called Lastarria, which is a vibrant neighbourhood of cafes, theatres and galleries. There used to be a local pharmacy which serviced the population for generations, providing advice on prescriptions and minor ailments. Then a large discount pharmacy chain opened a branch around the corner. The local customers went to the discount shop for cheaper products. But there were not enough customers to support such a big shop, so it eventually closed down. Now Lastarria has no pharmacies, big or small.

Could this happen in Brunswick?


Thanks to Paola for the photos.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Supermarket chemists expand

imageMy twitter has just been ‘followed’ by yousave chemists, which is another chain of supermarket chemists, this time emerging from New South Wales. yousave continue the Chemist Warehouse model of using cheap goods in bins and aisles to attract sales and customers to improve margins in dispensing prescriptions.

It’s a clear retail trend – not limited to Chemist Warehouse. We seem to love bins and shelves where we can grab a bargain. But do we always know what’s best for us? The professional ethos that previously governed chemists is being seriously challenged by aggressive consumerism.

How can we turn this around?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Over a coffee at the Mediterranean

With a neighbour, I recently met with the General Manager of Chemist Warehouse, Damien Gance and Group Manager, John Paris. Over a coffee at the Mediterranean supermarket, we discussed the issues raised by a retail model like Chemist Warehouse that does business by competing with supermarkets.

During the meeting, I was impressed by the sincerity of both Damien and John. They both cared greatly about the profession of pharmacist and firmly believed that they were going good.

I’ll post some thoughts about their position once I’ve had time to digest it, but overall it did seem an important conversation to have in the context of where we are in Brunswick. Maybe in other neighbourhoods, this kind of development may have happened without any fuss.  Maybe it’s the way that different cultures meet in Brunswick which makes you believe that common good is a deliberate choice, rather than something inherited.

I’m sure that Brunswick is not unique in this regard, but we always like to believe our neighbourhood is special, don’t we?

Monday, 1 June 2009

Squeezing out the last drops of the Brunswick Baths

The wonderful Brunswick Baths, a precious jewel in the crown of the People's Republic of Brunswick, has unfortunately taken a step down the privatised path by restricting two of its swimming lanes to a private company specialising in swimming instruction.

The Baths claim they are forced to do this because of council financial requirements. The private lanes are relatively empty, leaving the normal public customers squeezed into the remaining few lanes.

Is this progress? The pool is there to provide the citizens of Brunswick with the opportunity for exercise and enjoyment. Why does this public facility now have to provide special privileges for private customers who will pay extra? How much money is now going into the management of an extra company overlaying what the Baths already provide?

Isn't there an alternative? Can't fees for everyone be increased instead?

It's just not Brunswick!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Petition to Protect Local Chemists

Comrades and neighbours, you are urged to sign the petition to Protect Local Chemists.

On the corner of Blyth and Sydney road, there used to be a chemist which offered responsible advice to the local community. The staff were invariably cheerful and took pains to make everyone welcome, even the old Italian mamma who had to sit on a chair while she waited for her prescriptions.

Towards the end of 2008, the chemist was approached by the large corporation Chemist Warehouse. They were eager to obtain a pharmacist's license so they could open up a branch in Sydney Road. They had a winning strategy. There are two pharmacies in this area. Whoever didn't sell their licence to Chemist Warehouse risked being run out of business by aggressive price cutting, backed by the resources of a large corporation. It was an offer they couldn't refuse.

So this corner of Brunswick has lost a valuable neighbourhood business. The local chemist plays a critical role as a space between formality the doctor's surgery and the demands of everyday life. A good pharmacist gets to know his or her customers and offers valuable advice about their medication. Trust is essential to a successful pharmacy.

So what has Brunswick gained in return? A supermarket that pretends to be chemist. Chemist Warehouse is an eyesore. The footpath is cluttered with crates of cheap rubbish. They adopt the JB HiFi look of taped black plastic on which is scrawled 'cheap'. And customers are forced to walk through aisles of useless products before they get to the pharmacy at the rear of the store. Once they get their prescription, they have to then take it back through the aisles to the front country in a plastic security box, where their purchase is scanned by a checkout assistant.

Of course, it's a free world. If people want to shop like this, then why stop them? But it comes at a cost. These predatory corporations come into a neighbourhood and put other local stores out of business by undercutting prices. We are left with ugly branded shops that look just the same as anywhere else. The neighbourhood has lost some of its identity.

In the case of pharmacies, though, there are limits based on the restricted number of licences available in each neighbourhood. We can make life a little more difficult for businesses like Chemist Warehouse by calling on the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority to prohibit operations by chains that put local businesses out of operation.

Local pharmacies play a critical role in community health and well-being. The Chemist Warehouse is a supermarket in disguise that places sales before service. Reserve these licenses for real pharmacies, not the Chemist Warehouse.

We can make a difference. Protect our neighbourhoods and our community's health. Please sign the petition.

Friday, 15 May 2009