Address: 80-82 Station St, Fairfield VIC 3078
From an interview with Rosalie and Kat in 2021 that has been edited
Wrapped in it was an expression in the late 1960s.
At that time, I was working at the Myers Gift Wrap bar. We’d wrap a parcel and address the customer as, “sir’, or “madam.” If we asked the customer if our work was all right, they’d say, “oh yes, I’m rapt in it.”
We’d all burst out laughing, because it was such a funny thing to say in a gift wrap bar.
I thought to myself, if ever I have my own shop, I’d call it ‘Wrapped in it’.
I came from South Australia and started in opera at 14 and a half years of age.
I mainly did D’Oyly Carte and leading roles, and started at Myer Adelaide when I was 15 to pay for my singing lessons.
I was singing all the time, but I was sick of the heaviness of opera, and it wasn’t taking me anywhere. The industry felt empty. I was also teaching every Saturday and Sunday, and working myself into the ground.
I sang with another guy, Paul Flower, and we did loads of work up until the time I married at 26. I studied under 3 brilliant teachers and I began to write. My work includes the musical According to John, which ran for 14 and a half years. We did all these festivals around Australia, and I was using different types of music.
So I worked at Myer, then for myself from the age of 26. We manufactured very elaborate bows, and supplied for John Sands for 27 and a half years. I started this shop, in part, because an accountant of mine said, “the public have got to see what you’re doing.”
It’s funny, because the shop was wrapping and stationary, but the customers saw my taste, and they wanted gifts.
We initially opened in 524 High St, Northcote, moved to Northcote Central, before moving again to Thornbury.
We were in the inner-north for 10 years, before a dear man put an investment into the business because he wanted to see it grow and expand. He said, “I’ll pull out my investment if you don’t move to Fairfield.”
He took me over to St Francis, made me sit in a pew and said, ‘sit there and tell me what you think.’ I came out, and I could feel the faith of the people in this area coming down from the ceiling. I felt an immediate, spiritual connection.
At the time of opening, we’d run out of money. But, when I was opera singing, I was often given presents. I had incredible glassware, sets of handkerchiefs and things I never used. They were kept in a box. My daughter was working in David Jones, and she started to price this stuff. We put our own things on display, and that raised enough money to sustain the business at first.
About 20 years ago, the landlord suggested that the Fairy Shop was interested in sub-letting next door. Bringing the fairy shop in was the best thing ever for me, and my business.
The shop has been such an incredible adventure, and every day provides a different challenge.
With gift-wrapping, you’re still performing.
People come in with objects that are important, and I’d help to make them look good. It’s meaningful to beautify objects that are significant to people.
At times in my life, I have been a milliner, florist, performed opera and so on. With everything, I got burnout. But, with gift-wrapping, it’s something I love. The joy of the toys and going to the next level with gift wrapping – seeing the delight of the kids and parents. The wonderful thing is I don’t ever have tension, and I never get tired of being here.
I also don’t spend $1c on advertising. My advertising is the gift wrapping. People walk into a party, have the best dressed parcel, and others say “where did you get that wrapped?” I’ve been working with my hands for so many years, which is therapy, and we’re here for one another as a community.
The locals are family and, for me, this is home.
The breathing cats and dogs that we have are very exclusive to us.
There’s a reason for this. I had a cat called Waif who died in my arms at 22 years of age. I buried her under her favourite blossom tree, and I came to work so upset. In walks this guy with a black and white cat toy, identical to Waif, breathing on his arm. I threw him out of the shop, saying “don’t bring that in here.”
I rang him the next day saying, “I reacted to a toy emotionally.”
“Other people will react emotionally.”
What happens all the time is they’re given to elderly citizens who’ve lost their dogs and cats, and the children absolutely adore them.
Across all demographics and ages, they love these toys.
In particular, they’ve helped people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease socialise, and come out of their shell.
All ages come in, and dads in particular love the shop.
You see the connection they develop with their children which is beautiful. Everything here is for kids, and bringing out the inner-child in older people is gorgeous.
And everyone has their own taste, which is why the stock is so diverse. It’s all about quality products, and things that people won’t find in other shops. Our card collection is also huge. I can go through and say, “that’s not us,” or, “I’ll give that a try.” It’s about knowing what works, and genuinely wanting kids, or whomever is buying, to buy what they want.
I’m also used to referring customers to a different place in the area if we don’t have something, and they have it in stock.
It’s all about adapting, knowing your clientele and supporting the community.
I’ve been in Fairfield 25 years.
I feel that spiritual connection to the area more now than ever. I can’t imagine having this shop anywhere else. The foundation is built here and I think it’s built on respect and love.
We also see the coming of the younger generation now, which is a real privilege. We have a fundamental shop rule, which is that children must obey their parents, grandparents and so on. Funnily enough, the kids understand and respect the rule.
And watching people grow up in the shop is amazing. They were my kids, now they’re bringing in their own kids. The fact that they remember me blows my mind. The everyday chats with customers also bolsters you.
The passion comes from connection with people.
The last year was challenging.
With Covid, it was the first holiday I’d had in 33 years – and I rested with no account of time – but I pooled my own resources together. I didn’t come in to the shop at all and, when I returned, my son came in with a hose to help clean the front of the shop.
The day we opened was the first time I felt apprehension in this job, because I didn’t know what to expect. Were we going to come back to nothing, or what? But, on our first day, we were inundated, and customers bought the toys in the window, because it’s what they had been looking at for about a year. I was giving everyone 20% off, and there was so much excitement in the air.
From November 2020-February 2021 we were clocking 2018 figures – a year unaffected by the bushfires and COVID-19. Despite the economic uncertainty, customers wanted to support local, and they don’t want to see these types of shops go.
Shortly after reopening, I teamed up with Kat from the Fairy Shop next door, and that’s turned the business on its head. It’s is like a breath of fresh air because of her skill and vision. Her insight and perception is so beneficial.
When she proposes something, I’ll typically say, ‘go ahead, it’s your vision.’
She has such an acute eye for the business.
When we were closed, customers were going on my Facebook page and writing, “we need you to come back.”
The first day back was one of the most beautiful day of my life. Little kids came in with notes saying, “we missed you.” It’s just beautiful, which is why I persevere.
When I come in to the shop, everything is colourful and breathing life. It really gives me life.
There’s so much fun.
It’s imagination, play and getting on the level with your child.
Written by Aron Lewin with all photos by Tatiana C.C. Scott