Finding the perfect gift is hard enough – and even harder if it means you have to brave Sydney traffic and leave your local area to get it. It was a dilemma that Leichhardt’s friends and locals, Airlie Welch and Claire Bi, often faced. So they solved the problem themselves by opening their own design and gift shop, Neighborhood, on Norton Street.
Between them, Welch and Bi have experience in US retail, interior design and the Australian arts sector, and have lived in Europe, the UK and the US. The retail concept they came up with brings together unique products from international designers and emerging local manufacturers. “We wanted to build the store we had always hoped for,” says Bi Large format.
Some of the products you might find in store include Yiayia and Friends Greek olive oils and vinegars, Feu de L’eau heirloom candles from California, hand-cast ceramics by Frizbee Ceramics of Brussels, and Zafferano glassware from ‘Italy. There are also tonics and bitters from Pyewackets in Lismore, Atypic chocolates from Melbourne and tote bags from Pan After (also from Melbourne).
“There’s weird stuff, there’s irreverent stuff, but what we really want to do is make it feel like home, which has been our slogan,” Bi says. , adding that any purchase can be wrapped in a gift basket.
All products are displayed on open white shelves to complement the yet welcoming gallery front which overlooks Norton Street. Bi explains that the space has been set up so that customers are not overwhelmed with products when they enter the store, unlike other gift shops.
“We strongly believe in the products we’ve brought and they all deserve a little breathing room, and you can actually take the time to admire each of the pieces we offer.”
The couple also hope the store will help fill a long-missing void in the once-bustling mid-western western suburbs that were famous for their Italian culture. They hope the studio adjacent to the store – connected by a colorful mural by a local artist Digby Webster – will serve as a community center to organize events, hold meetings or organize workshops with local ceramists, florists and bartenders for cocktail classes.
“It’s a super vibrant community that has all kinds of cool talent to offer. We hope we can be the place where people can do that,” Bi says.