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The little family store that survived a supermarket invasion

WE ARE FAMILY: Lombardo’s fruit market was open 41 years ago, from right to left: Joan Lombardo, Felicia Fryatt and Frank Lombardo.
WE ARE FAMILY: Lombardo’s fruit market was open 41 years ago, from right to left: Joan Lombardo, Felicia Fryatt and Frank Lombardo. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

WHEN the Lombardo family first opened their roadside fruit and vegetable stall on the side of the Bruxner Highway in 1973, most of Goonellabah was home to grazing cows, not people.

Forty years later - despite giants Coles, Woolies, and now Aldi opening up stores a few hundred metres away - the family-run business shows no signs of slowing down.

Family matriarch Joan Lombardo, now into her 70s, says she plans to keep working for at least another decade.

"We're not scared," she said.

"We've had four generations of families coming in here. Coles opened, Woolworths opened… now Aldi's opened, and we're still here."

Her two adult children Felicia and Frank have grown up in the business and for them it's a way of life.

Frank has always worked in the business, while Felicia left for several years, working overseas in the corporate sector before returning, husband in tow.

"Having worked in London and Sydney for 17 years it really made me appreciate what I've got here," she said.

Joan Lombardo said Goonellabah - now one of the biggest suburbs on the Northern Rivers - was a different world in the 1970s.

"(Ballina) road was just one lane up and one lane down, and this was all paddock," Mrs Lombardo said pointing outside.

"We had five acres."

"Everyone was parking everywhere.

"After that (local dairy farming family) the Olleys started to subdivide."

It wasn't until 1983 that Lismore City Council bought land off the neighbouring Simeoni family to build the shopping centre and council chambers, which has since become Goonellabah's retail, leisure, and services hub.

Ten years ago the business was joined by butcher Tony Mathie, who sells local beef sourced from his Binna Burra family property alongside lamb, pork, and hams and bacon cured and smoked on the premises.

The Lombardo's success story is an inspiration in a world now dominated by the big retailers, with many independent grocers being forced out of business over the last 15 years.

"We're in the right spot," Mrs Lombardo said of the shop's staying power.

"If we were down the hill we would have been gone years ago."

"Here we have easy access; it's on the highway, people just call in."

People also value the welcoming and family friendly environment of the store - something increasingly rare in the depersonalised chain store shopping.

Shopping there buys people not only good value fresh produce, but a sense of community connection too.

Felicia remarked that children who had grown up coming to the store felt very comfortable dropping in after school to say hello.

Topics:  business


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