Vintage vignettes in Finns Store Canowindra
Chance brought Jacky and Geoff Yeo to Canowindra in the NSW central-west. Finns Store, is the stand-alone destination keeps them there.
By her own admission, Jacky Yeo has never stood still, so it was asking for trouble when she accompanied her husband, Geoff, on a business trip to Canowindra 11 years ago. While Geoff was in his meeting, Jacky took a wander up the winding main street that followed a path taken by the early settlers’ bullock drays, when the town was first surveyed in the 1860s. She was immediately attracted by Gaskill Street’s historic ambience and the many historic double-storeyed buildings that lined it. Inevitably, her interest was piqued when she discovered that one of the oldest premises, Finns Store, with its colonnaded facade overhanging the footpath, was for sale.
At that stage, the Yeos were based in Dubbo, where Geoff worked in rehab counselling and Jacky ran a cafe that incorporated a small gift store. Their two sons, Harrison and William, were at uni and their daughter, Gabriella, was in year 11 at school. “I could immediately see the potential for the building to expand on what I already had in Dubbo,” Jacky says. “It was the perfect location and ambience to combine a cafe with a homewares store and gallery, with lots of display space and room for tables. Geoff’s first response was ‘no way’, but gradually I persuaded him that the opportunity was too good to pass up.”
Thomas Joseph Finn first opened his Canowindra store in 1874. Three years later, he moved his business to the present location and he and his wife, Maria, lived next door in a house called The Peppers, where they had seven sons and seven daughters. In 1920, the family moved to another of the town’s imposing buildings, named Tralee, and their former residence was incorporated into Finn’s Store, which was by that stage more of an emporium selling everything from hardware to haberdashery. When TJ, or the Grand Old Man of Canowindra as he was known, died in 1941, two of his sons took over the business and it stayed in the family for another 30 years. It was then revamped and run by Russell and Margot Chick until the Yeos came along in 2009.
“I was working in disability services when I met Geoffrey through our church,” Jacky explains. “We raised our children in the church until I realised that you don’t need religion if you have faith. I actually homeschooled the children in their early primary days, mainly because I didn’t like what the education system was providing for boys, who need to learn by doing. I was quite firm about their lessons and they knew they had to finish their work before they could go outside to play. It was a good experience for them and I believe it really helped them develop independence and resourcefulness.”
Jacky has always loved vintage fashion, but says her only experience in retail before Dubbo was when she briefly ran a vintage clothing store on Sydney’s Oxford Street in Paddington with her sister and a friend in the 1970s. “I’ve done a bit of everything, including lots of travel and working overseas,” she says. “So I brought all those interests and experiences together when we moved to Canowindra. I didn’t really set out to create a destination shop, but that is what has happened. I’ve always had a bit of an eye for quirky decorator items and I just wanted to find interesting things that don’t break the bank for people to put in their homes or give as gifts.”
As the Yeos moved to Canowindra, Gabriella moved to Canberra to study law and she inspired Geoff to follow suit. In between renovating the building and moonlighting as a part-time barista, he studied law externally and now runs a branch of a Dubbo law firm from a section of the Finn’s Store building. Like the Finns before them, the Yeos live on the premises, in an artful space at the back of the building that combines Jacky’s quirky tastes with an element of mid-century modern.
Jacky’s day is divided between curating Finn’s collection, which combines artworks with clothing, homewares and new and vintage decorator finds and, in her “spare” time, cooking most of the food on the cafe’s menu. She outsources the cakes and pastries to several talented local bakers and has plans to expand the premises to include a basement cellar door for a local winemaker.
Since COVID-19, Jacky’s scaled back the business to weekends-only, but hastens to add that she hopes this is a temporary move. “I’ve reached a stage in my life where I’d like to stop the perpetual motion,” she says. “In an ideal world, someone young and energetic will come along to help with the business and take some of the load off me. I’d like this to happen organically, so I’m trying to be patient and hope the right person presents her or himself. The time is right for business to boom as the pandemic did country NSW a favour as the border closures meant lots of people from the city and the coast have ‘discovered the bush’. Canowindra is ideally placed for tourism as it’s on the road to everywhere and within easy driving distance of Canberra, Orange, Bathurst, Young, Forbes and Cowra. For a relatively small town, it’s quite prosperous as it’s long been famous for growing crops including lucerne and other farming endeavours. Plus it’s Australia’s hot-air ballooning capital with an annual festival in April. There’s also a Baroque Music Festival in September and year-round interest in the Age of Fishes Museum, which showcases fossils from the Devonian era, long before dinosaurs roamed the country. Plus there are wineries and some great B&Bs and plenty of history including Blind Freddy’s Bushranger Tours to explore locally. I believe the town is about to come into its own as a tourist centre, so I’m not done yet. I see a very bright future for the town and the region. My work at Finn’s is not done yet.”
See Finns Store, Canowindra’s Facebook Page.