#Winning In Winn Lane
By Georgia Wrigley
It is mid-afternoon on a Wednesday and Ann Street in Fortitude Valley is surprisingly busy. It is hard to believe that almost 10 years ago these streets were lined with tired, empty shopfronts and disintegrating buildings. But with the help of new office spaces in the area and the rejuvenation of Brunswick Street Mall, the area seems to have a new life to it.
Not long ago, the Valley was crippled by its exuberant rent and long-term lease agreements, creating a vicious cycle of empty storefronts and inactivity. Something had to change – and it did. Witnessing the struggle of landlords trying to fill their properties and small businesses attempting to get their start in the local scene presented Charlie and Arthur Apostolos with an opportunity.
Starting in Winn Lane, a small hideaway was the vision of the Apostolos brothers, who grew up in the Valley as children and have experienced both the highs and lows of the area. Their aim “was to create a space for independent retailers which was affordable,” says Mr. A. Apostolos, giving first-time business owners the opportunity to get their foot in the door on the local scene.
“We know that the types of business that we would like to attract feel more comfortable with short leases,” he continues. “They are usually people who are still developing their idea and are nervous to lock into something long-term or they are low in capital and feel more secure not to be locked in.”
The success of the lane was led by the Apostolos’ keen understanding of what the community around them wants and ultimately needs. “It was to create a community of like-minded people who can gather and share ideas. Uniqueness was important.”
As Winn Lane continues to grow, three female entrepreneurs, including Sarah Hazlehurst of The Culprit Club, Phoebe Sheehy of Phoebe Paradise and Amy Crow of FUTURE = FEMALE, are flourishing along with it.
Ms. Hazlehurst is the longest-standing retail resident in the lane, opening her first iteration of The Culprit Club in 2016. She describes it as a “multifaceted creative store, partially an art gallery, partially an apparel store and partially an artist agency.” Ms. Hazlehurst was first drawn to the lane, seeing it as “an incubator space for the creatives in Brisbane”. The store recently moved to a larger space in the lane and collaborated with Lil J’s Vintage.
As young creatives move away from the competitive nature of their field, it is this collaborative spirit that makes the lane so successful; Ms. Hazlehurst commenting that “there’s this shift happening of people starting to support each other in general… it’s good to see females in the lane working together and supporting each other”. This kind of community effort has resulted in others like The Culprit Club finding success.
Due to The Culprit Club moving into a larger space, the reshuffling of the stores has ushered in a new generation of business for the lane. Phoebe Sheehy, the Designer/Creator of Phoebe Paradise, noticed this when she moved in. With her bold and unique prints, the illustrator and fashion designer says, “I was adamant that I wanted to open a shop in Fortitude Valley”. But with leases at a minimum of five years, opportunities for small businesses were not available at the time. “There were so many empty shopfronts in Fortitude Valley, the state of the commercial real estate was pretty dire at the time.” After searching for months, Ms. Sheehy was given the opportunity by the Apostolos brothers for a short-term lease along Ann Street. After much success, she moved over to Winn Lane earlier this year.
Ms. Sheehy’s new shop location allows her and other stores to “experiment with some new ideas, such as having late night trading,” she says, “and to engage with local business is not only a retail sense but also in an event sense”.
The success of short-term leases potentially benefits the lane’s pop-up stores, like FUTURE = FEMALE, most. While only in the lane for a month, it will allow the community an opportunity to engage with and support young designers.
With its name an homage to 1970s New York feminist movements, FUTURE = FEMALE was created by feminist designer Amy Crow to give artists of all genders a platform and environment to sell their products without consignment, allowing for up-and-coming creatives access to 100 percent of profits made. Ms. Crow’s pop up shop in Winn Lane is a “curated collection” of both her own screen-printed t-shirts and accessories, as well as locally-made ceramics, prints, and wall hangings – the list goes on. “I have so many friends who make things and design things, but there’s nowhere to showcase it,” she says of the struggle to find opportunities to sell her own, and other’s, designs in Brisbane.
Because of this, Ms. Crow reached out to fellow Winn Lane tenant and friend Ms. Sheehy for help. Finding that an available space had just opened up in the area, she was quick to set up shop. With her “fail fast, fail often” attitude, FUTURE = FEMALE is the embodiment of everything Winn Lane has to offer, creating a collaborative space for entrepreneurs in all stages of development.
Winn Lane’s prosperity is no better summed up than by Mr. A Apostolos. “Looking holistically at the success of the lane… it is a combination of short-term tenancies and pop-ups, plus the mix of tenants, and the quality of the tenants that are there. They are all makers and masters of their trade, location, heritage make-up of the urban fabric and the design of the lane. It’s not homogeneous. There are many layers to the design and all this makes it an interesting place to visit.”
As one of the most innovative business arrangements in Brisbane, Winn Lane can be considered one of Brisbane’s greatest success stories, allowing for opportunities and involvement that go beyond one’s regular retail experience.