A clean up of a local store basement unearthed items dating back to the 1800s giving a detailed picture of business life in Ipswich.
Rawlings closed its doors for the final time in December 2018, after 120 years of selling shoes and clothes in Brisbane Street in the Ipswich CBD.
Owner Andy Rawlings was recently clearing out the store to prepare for new tenants when he cracked open the basement.
What he discovered was a treasure trove of finds from decades of retail.
Forgotten trunks of old leather boots, wooden mannequins, piles of old accounts books dating back to the opening of the store by Mr Rawlings’ grandfather, William Rawlings, and his brother Frederick in 1898, have been preserved in pristine condition.
Mr Rawlings and his family approached Picture Ipswich, the Ipswich Libraries’ online historical collection, to digitise some of their historical images.
Council officers were so impressed by the volume of the items and offered to curate an exhibition.
While Mr Rawlings had a good idea of the significance of the collection, he had no idea exactly how much stuff had been accumulated over the years.
The Rawlings 120 years of Shoes and Mercery exhibition is currently being shown at the Ipswich Central Library, 40 South Street, Ipswich, until the end of April.
Rawling shopfronts. Images courtesy Picture Ipswich, Rawlings Family Collection
There are crates of stock books that cover the entire 120 years the business was in operation.
“We’ve got our very first stock book there from 1898 so that’s pretty exciting,” Mr Rawlings said.
“I was born in 1948 so I looked up that day saw all the day’s sales listed and I thought – on the day I was born they didn’t even close the shop.”
The stacks of receipts are another exciting find.
Contained within these packages, wrapped up in brown paper and tied up with string (yes, these are a few of our favourite things) are letterheads of businesses Rawlings dealt with.
“It was good to see the names of all the Ipswich families over the years and recalling those names and also the various suppliers,” Mr Rawlings said.
“A lot has changed over the years and the number of suppliers that have come and gone over that time is incredible, that’s life.”
Community, Cultural and Economic Development general manager Ben Pole said the significance of the exhibition lies in its ability to not only tell the story of a small business but also provide insight into families and the community itself.
“The collection gives us a very clear snapshot of the shopping habits of Ipswich families through generations and you can piece together, from the documents, the challenges of a small family-run business faced with competition from chain stores and shopping centres,” Mr Pole said.
Mr Rawlings said retail had been challenging at times but had also been good to his family over the years.
“You were in touch with all the other business in the area and all of the families,” he said.
“I loved helping a customer.
“They would come in with a problem and you were solving it for them and away they would go feeling good about themselves in a new pair of shoes or shirt.
“That was very satisfying for me.”
Mr Rawlings credits his loyalty to Ipswich for staying open as long as he did, but is looking forward to seeing Ipswich CBD revitalised with the new Nicholas Street redevelopment.
“We are all about making this place work again and historical elements like this building will complement the new,” he said.