Waving goodbye with the store sign in the background of Target are staff Georgia Tate, Tenelle Allan, Bec Scifleet, Deb White, Mel Finnigan, Jake Finnigan and Sianne Marsay. Photo: Lynn Spain.

Target Cootamundra finally closed its doors last Saturday after more than 35 years and three long-serving members at the store have a lot to tell us about their time.

Deb White, Melissa Finnigan and Rebecca Scifleet have over 70 years of combined service with the store and now it will be time for them to move on after Target made an announcement in 2020 to close many of its rural and regional stores.

Along the years, Deb has seen many changes from cigarette sales, to the introduction of GST, to the Millennium Bug and of course, the changes in range and fashion.

Rebecca’s favourite change was the way stocktake adapted with the times.

From typing a cost and quantity into a calculator, to handwriting every barcode with a quantity, to most recently, a digital gun that registers every barcode into a system.

Staff member Melissa started with Coles Fosseys in 1989 in Leeton then joined a manager training program and transferred to Weston Creek and Wagga before being promoted to store manager of Cootamundra in 1996.

Upon reaching 30 years of service, she said it was the people in Cootamundra as well as staff members that made moving away from her home town that little bit easier.

“During my time I got to meet and work with some amazing people who taught me so much along my travels,” she highlights.

“The team I have worked with here in Cootamundra, from the first juniors I put on, to the long-term staff, have all become more than work colleagues but of great friends and more like family.

“We have been so lucky that we get to spend each day with such delightful customers that bring a smile to our faces on a regular basis. Diana Curley has been coming in for as many years as I can remember, and if she can’t, she rings to touch base and make sure we are okay.”

The store front on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Christopher Tan.

Rebecca started working for the company in January 1993 and said she was fortunate enough to secure a position once she completed Year 10.

Deb started with Coles Fosseys in 1985 and was with the business when it moved into the Cootamundra premises in 1987 then changed to Target Country in 1998.

She said one highlight along the way was becoming store manager in 2003, dual manager of Cootamundra and Young from 2005 to 2007, as well as travelling to Hong Kong in 2017 with over 300 other store managers.

Cootamundra Development Corporation said it was a shock when they learnt that Coota made the list of stores to close down, even after cries from the community not to.

“Like all of Cootamundra, we were shocked to hear Wesfarmers’ announcement of the closure of our Target store,” a CDC spokesperson said.

“Ours and the communities pleas for a reconsideration fell on deaf ears, and we came to realise that this in fact was going to happen.”

CDC highlighted that the closure would have a detrimental impact on the community, after many years of servicing it with essential goods.

“Current Target staff and others over the years have played a huge part in our community,” a CDC spokesperson said.

“Apart from clothing and fitting out many homes providing toys for kids, books to read and other basics, our Target staff have always willingly helped with school and community fundraisers.

“I can think of the many times I have ran into the shop to pick up lamingtons, or pies or raffle tickets. We will all miss this. We thank you all for your wonderful service and we wish you all the very best for your next journey in life.”

Beside Cootamundra, stores in Cooma, Merimbula, Nowra and Wagga Wagga will also shut its doors by mid-2021.

For some other regional stores such as in Yass, they will be converted to a Kmart with a modified retail profile also by mid-2021.

The Cootamundra store however missed out, as it did not meet the criteria for a conversion to a small format Kmart store.

The small format Kmart stores need to be a minimum of 1000sqm and Cootamundra’s store is 610sqm.

The empty shop on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Christopher Tan.

With a vacant shop space as of March 27 and a town left without a shop that sells affordable basics and clothing for families, a Steering Group was quickly formed and with everything going well so far, it is likely we will have a Co-operative store by this year.

Much like Target, ‘The Coota District Co-op’ will be run and backed by community members, and it will stock popular items such as children’s clothes, homeware, school shoes and manchester to name a few.

However, from now till the opening of the Co-op store, there are fears that residents would travel out of town for their basics.

Target Cootamundra Staff Member Rebecca Scifleet said the change will be hard for locals to accept.

“I feel sad for us and our community. The impact of the closure will make it difficult for our small community, the elderly and mums racing in to grab something quick before school,” she said.

“We are at an all-time poor [town] so I truly hope our customers will try their best to support the local businesses before jumping in the car to go out of town.”

At a recent The Coota District Co-op garage sale earlier last month, the Steering Group raised $7,500 and a part of that amount will go towards producing a prospectus to attract investors and to developing a comprehensive business plan.

Christopher Tan