Tides of change as iconic surf shop closes its doors
SITTING in a caravan at Angourie surrounded by swathes of batik material, a 24-year-old Grant Dwyer put his first elastic into a bikini, not knowing it would form the fabric of his next 40-odd years.
Now, the owner of Yamba's iconic Fandango Surf Co is preparing to meet the end of an era.
The store in Yamba St went on the market in January, but after failing to find a suitable buyer, the veteran surfer has decided to clear out before the lease is up at the end of this month.
It's been a wild ride for the "almost" local, who was born in Bondi and discovered the small coastal town of Yamba by chance in 1973, after travelling the world.
"Of course I had heard of the famous Angourie. A lot of my friends were living here and I realised why when (my partner and I) got here - we visited and never left," Grant said.
Living out of a caravan behind what is now The Angourie Store, the young couple found themselves with a bunch of fabrics collected from their travels.
"It's old news now but back then batiks were kind of novel, it was fresh, so we collected the material and realised the best way to make value was through women's swimwear," he said.
"The skills I developed were in choosing fabrics, and I did the cutting too. Then I'd sit in front of the TV and put the elastics in. When we bought the first shop (in Yamba), it went from there."
For 20-odd years, the Fandango brand of swimwear enjoyed a big portion of the "surfing lifestyle cake" and had a major influence on the Australian surf psyche, Grant said.
He sold the sought-after swimwear from outlets in the coastal town and beyond.
"We had three shops at one stage - a discount outlet, a boutique called Fandango Designs and a surf shop," he said.
"My mother worked in the boutique and my partners over the years worked in the stores."
But when men's surf brands like Billabong and Quicksilver started to delve into the world of women's clothing, the Fandango brand was phased out.
"We didn't follow trends, but the trends followed us," Grant said.
"When you look at the designs, you can see how advanced we were.
"You will see things in your lifetime two or three times over - I've seen everything come and go."
The one thing Grant hung on to was the retail shop, which moved to five different locations in Yamba's CBD before settling into its final home on Yamba St. The 67-year-old said he couldn't think of an older retailer still going in the CBD, and while sad to be leaving the scene, he said it was time to go.
"When I first started the businesses, life was simple because the weather patterns were normal," he said.
"When we had four seasons, it was so much easier to manage a store because you'd get winter or summer drop at the right period.
"But we've just had the hottest May on record and I'd be in trouble with winter stock I could only start to sell now."
But the clincher, he said, was the internet. "One of the saddest things about having a place in Yamba's retail history is seeing the generational change happening rapidly," he said.
"It's what I call a Dick Tracy moment - when I was a kid he was a comic book hero who had watches that did everything.
"People are now able to look at labels online, or try on a wetsuit in-store and buy it online."
Grant said he believed the failure to embrace retailers would create towns with little character.
"One of the beauties and the joys of being in retail is the communication one has.. and it's one of the things that I think will die from society, but we're just going with the flow," he said.
"I've certainly had some great years and some wonderful memories. It's just the way life has changed."
While he is closing the doors, there's no way Grant will be leaving his Wooloweyah home anytime soon, and plans to spend more time on his local breaks, at the golf course and with his children.
"In recent years they haven't had a lot of my weekend time or holiday time, so I'm going to best the best father I can for my kids," he said.