LEESA WHITCHURCH sits on the footpath amongst salvaged furnishings, sipping a Culley’s coffee with her daughter and close friends as the interior of her Gloria Jean’s cafe is torn out and thrown into a skip bin.
While Ms Whitchurch and daughter Taylor are clearly upset at the loss of the Fremantle business, what brings them to tears is talk of their family’s involvement in it together, their friendships with staff, and the customers they will no longer see.
Sitting with the mother and daughter are Andrea and Sue, close friends who often come in for a coffee and a catch-up.
Ray and Norma get a mention as the cafe’s first two customers and Wednesday regulars for 10 years.
Ms Whitchurch opened the cafe with late husband Greg, for whom the business was a passion.
He loved talking to the customers, while the business of making coffee was left to others.
Mr Whitchurch died two years ago, four days before a 10-year post-surgery check-up for his kidney and pancreas transplant.
Ms Whitchurch says the cafe closed because Fremantle’s become too quiet and the prospects for recovery aren’t great.
“As locals we have become used to the socially derelict state of the centre of Fremantle,” she says, urging a clean-up of both the streets and what she believes is a damaging sub-culture of begging, abusive behaviour and public swearing.
She hears the “c-word” yelled out daily and what goes on in Kings Square might make for dramatic viewing, but is not good for business.
“It can be scary,” she says, saying she was physically assaulted at least once. Blaming it on rent ould be a cop-out,” she says.
“Fremantle needs to be alive again. There’s no retail. Myer shut down, people only come in now for the quirky cafes, which are largely away from the troubles of the centre of Fremantle, where the parking is also free.”
Older-style cafes such as Gloria Jean relied on mainstream customers taking a break from their regular banking and shopping excursions, but with the loss of Myer they started disappearing to suburban malls, Ms Whitchurch says.
She’s hoping to remain in hospitality, but without the financial responsibility of a business owner.
She says a 24-hour 7/11 will replace her coffee shop.
Mistral Cafe, opposite the town hall, has also fallen victim to tough economic times and has closed its doors after more than 25 years.
On the other side of Kings Square the owners of the Green Bean Cafe next door to the old Myer, are hoping to move out by the end of the month.
Business has been bad since the department store’s departure and they are working 14 hours a day just to turn a quid.
Negotiations with landlord Sirona Capital—which wants to redevelop the Queensgate building as part of a broader Kings Square revamp—haven’t gone well.
Fremantle council still “technically”owns building and has offered to broker an exit deal.