Address: 740 Waverley Rd, Malvern East VIC 3145
The shop is closing on Saturday 9/9/2017. They will continue to operate online.
From an interview with Diana, Adam & Janelle that has been edited.
(Janelle) My mum and dad started the Melbourne Map Centre in 1981.
Dad wanted to have his own business and one of our relatives used to deliver Melways. The relative wanted to stop doing that so dad took over from him. When we were young my parents were selling the directories door-to-door.
They’d go to these industrial areas and customers would say, “yes, we’ll take a couple of Melways for our drivers.”
“Also, do you have a map of Australia?”
At that point, there was one map shop in the city that had been around forever. So they saw a business opportunity and expanded from there.
(Diana) When we sold Melways customers kept asking for marine charts, forestry commission maps & NATMAP’s.
My husband John said, “I think there might be a need for a map shop.”
The following year we opened this place.
People who were four-wheel driving, yachting, boating, fishing, bushwalking and various companies were after local maps, state maps, city maps and world maps. We were quite surprised by how quickly the business developed because we started from virtually nothing.
From selling Melways door-to-door.
It was full on for the two of us because our four children were young, so I’d have to go home and see that they were okay after school. Then I’d come back and pick John up at 6pm.
We weren’t particularly interested in cartography, and we didn’t specialise in a particular type of map. My husband wanted to have a shop, and that’s just the way that it happened.
It just evolved from there.
We are still selling Melways.
People need them to get around.
And customers are constantly telling us that phones aren’t enough. You can zero in on your phone and iPad, but it’s often not good enough. People with digital technology are coming in for paper maps so they can see the overall picture.
They are finding that it’s a better alternative than constantly zooming in and out.
And – if you’re going out bush or to the outback – you still need paper maps as a backup.
Before our closing down sale there were maps all around us.
We had cabinets right down the walls. We had rows and rows of guidebooks which aren’t used much anymore. We used to have 60 or 70 globes. It’s quite funny because it is like a cycle.
We are back to how we started in that the shop is basic and bare again.
We also had three shops at one stage. Kew was the first one, which opened around the mid 90’s. Then we expanded to the Dandenong store about 18 months before September 11.
That didn’t last long because oversees travel died right off. On the other hand, we had a big surge of people wanting maps of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq because they wanted to know where they were.
We eventually decided to cut it back to the original store.
So this is the place we started with 36 years ago.
(Adam) During the year we would see different patterns.
In the warmer months there’d be a lot of local travel.
Four-wheel drivers and bushwalkers would get out because the state forests and the national parks have tracks that close in winter.
Travellers typically head up north to Cape York, The Kimberley’s and outback Australia during winter. There’d be a fair bit of overseas travel too, because winter here is summer in Europe.
And – during the Global Financial Crisis – global suppliers cut back on the range of maps they’d sell. Some of them have started expanding again, but not at the same level.
Map publishers are largely based in Europe and, unfortunately, a lot of them didn’t survive the GFC.
So external forces come in to play.
We have long term customers who have been coming for 25 or 30 years.
Over the last few years they were constantly saying, ‘I hope you don’t go. I hope you don’t go.”
I think that’s what we are all going to miss. 99.9 per cent of the customers are absolutely lovely. We have people who would come in and spend two hours walking around and poring over maps.
(Adam) I’ve been to Europe a few times, and customers will come in and chat about their travel plans and experiences.
We would stand here and talk about it for hours.
There’s probably more Asian travel now.
Travellers are probably a bit more adventurous and – as one country closes off – another opens. For example, we used to sell more Egyptian maps, but now people are buying Tunisian maps and guidebooks
And – for years – no one from Australia travelled to Iran, but it’s becoming quite a popular travel destination. Cuba has also really opened up over the past few years. The hot spot at the moment is Iceland.
I had somebody say – because flights between Europe to America stop at Reykjavik – travellers will stay for a few days. Another customer said it’s the whole Game of Thrones thing.
At one point, I think we had maps of every country in the world.
If there was a map, we would have had it here.
We’re closing the shop mainly because of personal reasons.
(Adam) Dad passed away last year. I run it with my sister now and you get to the point where you become burnt out.
We both have young families, and most of the map shops around Australia are run by people whose kids have grown up. They don’t have mortgages and – for them – it’s more of a hobby business.
Rent prices are going up all the time and hiring staff can be so expensive. It’s a lot tougher and more complicated running a small business now. (Janelle) If we had children earlier, they would have been at an age where they could have taken over!
(Janelle) My kid loves coming here so he’s quite upset that we are closing.
(Diana) I’m the one who should be rolling on the floor crying, but it’s these two who will miss it.
(Adam) I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s the only job I’ve ever had.
I graduated from IT at Monash and I was working here while completing my degree.
Dad said, ‘come and do the computer programs.’
I never left.
Saturday is our last day and I feel like it’s the week before a funeral. I’m emotional about it, but we’re at a point in our life where we need to look after ourselves and do our own thing.
It’s been a huge part of all of our lives so we’ll be sad to see it go. I used to talk to dad about it and he’d say, “no business lasts forever.”
“If it’s time for it to go, it’s time for it to go.”
We’re not closing.
We are just moving online.
Written by Aron Lewin and all photos by Tatiana C C Scott