Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, on 25 February, shortly after 4 p.m. in the afternoon, the Managing Director of Birchalls, Graeme Tilley, prepared to end the Launceston store's reign as Australia's oldest bookshop. As he did, he announced Trevallyn's Steve Radford was the last customer. Steve handed him a card to say thank you to staff at the store, which he had visited regularly since 1960. He first started going to Birchalls as a 15 year old to buy a boy's magazine called Chucklers' Weekly. One hundred and seventy three years of selling everything from newspapers, games, educational supplies, gifts, magazines and books meant Birchalls had etched itself into thousands of memories and hearts. Customers faithful to the end stood outside and gave loud applause to staff as the roller door came down one last time. In the post on their Facebook page after they had closed, Birchalls wrote,
To our Wonderful Customers; thank you for making our final day of trade something special. When the doors closed this afternoon the emotions almost became too much.
In his own letter to the people of Launceston, Birchalls Managing Director, Graeme
Tilley wrote -
I was humbled by the outpouring of support from the Launceston community over the closure of a business which has been a part of my family for over three generations. The warmth and generosity shown to myself and my staff throughout this difficult period has been wonderful and very much appreciated. There has been an astonishing display of sentiment from customers, many with a story to tell of their experience with the store over the years. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my staff for remaining positive and professional right up to the end, maintaining a smile through periods of uncertainly and sorrow. I have been fortunate to have served and worked with so many amazing people over my time with the company and am proud to have been part of this Launceston institution.
There have been many tributes for Birchalls Launceston from far and wide and some of the comments taken from Birchalls and the Examiner Facebook sites are:
Sarah Normington - 'So many great memories growing up watching that little train up the top in Birchalls. Then being able to show it to my son too, watching him get more excited than I was. Will miss Birchalls very much. Very sad day'.
Adam Mason - 'Growing up in the Midlands, a highlight to a trip to Launceston was a visit to Birchalls. It had model aeroplanes, Star Wars figures, comics and good books. A sad day'.
Pam Chugg - 'I would take my children in there just to see the train going around'.
Helen Hearps - 'So sorry to see Birchalls go. My Dad spent many years repairing toys for Birchalls'.
Samuel Tegg opened the first bookshop on the current Birchalls site in Brisbane Street on 25 November 1844. The store sold many items including a variety of books, schoolbooks and art materials. Birchalls' website shows it was the first in Australia to sell ballpoint pens manufactured by England's Miles Martin Aeroplane Company. Those cost £13 each and had a five year guarantee.
I pay tribute to the Tilley family in particular, as well as management and staff over the years. I thank them for their service and for always going the extra mile for customers. The store has been an institution and has created a rich tapestry of stories and memories for the many people who shop there. It has been a huge part of life in Launceston.
Under the Tilley family's ownership for almost 50 years, Birchalls has also become a statewide business with education stores in Hobart and Devonport. The signs above the shop highlighted 'all' in the stores name with the definition 'something for everyone'. It was at the heart of Birchalls' philosophy to create a business where everyone could find something they like. It is a big part of the reason why Birchalls became so valued by the community it served.
We thank Graeme Tilley and the entire Birchalls family for 173 years of excellence. We will always be grateful for their contribution and we wish them the very best for the future. We also look forward to learning more about what is in store for the next retail chapter on the Brisbane Street site.