South Grafton's 'characters' keep it vibrant
NEXT week will mark 25 years since Robert Bentley opened his Bentleg Market, using a name given to him by local firefighters when he came to the area.
"I've always been working since I joined Dad's milk runs when I was six, and we wholesaled confectionery for 23 years, did retail, a cafe for 10 years and I event got into some boat building as a hobby and worked for shipwrights on the side," Mr Bentley said.
"I broke my leg when I came to the area to build boats, and when I went back to the first aid group with the bushfire brigade, they dubbed me 'Bentleg' because my name is Bentley, and I thought I'd better look for some work.
Mr Bentley tried markets, but realising he couldn't make a living from it, opened his shop across the road from his current Skinner St location, selling goods to other market vendors for income.
"I found I was selling a lot of jewellery, clothing, incense and art materials, and I thought I'd try something with souvenirs," he said.
He moved to his current location after 10 months.
"I started with a small range and it grew, and when people wanted something I would buy twice as much, and it grew and grew," he said.
"Now I've got it down to having a good range of souvenirs and a very good range of art materials and picture framing because if you can build a yacht you can put together a frame."
With customers coming from as far away as Maleny and Lightning Ridge, Mr Bentley said he sold what people wanted, and they came back to him for it.
"After 25 years, I still have great customers, the fabulous artists in this area ... they're a delight to be around," he said.
"We have materials for drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting and clay work as well as the souvenirs and the framing."
Mr Bentley said he a lot of confidence in the South Grafton area and in particular the experience for shoppers.
"South Grafton is good because we're independent people in our business and we can be characters. and it doesn't matter what shop it is, a lot of them have interesting people behind the counter," he said.
Mr Bentley has a DA before the council for a set of shops on a vacant block of land opposite Farmer Lou's and he said they would be perfect for many types of business.
"They'll lend themselves to anything and it's in a prime location," he said.
"It's a shame the land has been vacant for 40 odd years and no one's picked it up.
"Now's the right time because there is a lot of development around, and even though we're about to get bypassed, we'll still get people coming from all the other directions."
And after 25 years, Mr Bentley said he was still keen to continue in his South Grafton business.
"I'm like the dog that bites and hangs on forever," he said.
"I like what I do and I don't look to make money.
"You have to keep looking and trying different things and by doing that you will make money, but lifestyle is much more important than money."