COLBINABBIN residents are banding together to buy the town's general store.
The store has been up for sale for the past two years, after owners Darren Morante and Shirley-Anne Hughes decided it was time to step aside.
"The original plan was for us to work here for five or six years," Mr Morante said. "We thought that would be long enough because you're working seven days a week and don't get any holidays.
"We have sacrificed a lot of spare time and missed a bit there. Even basic things like going to get a haircut or going to a doctors appointment can't happen because of the store."
Mr Morante said the couple had been close to selling a number of times in the past two years, but ultimately the sales fell through.
Colbinabbin resident Matt McEvoy and other locals came up with the solution to purchase the store as a cooperative.
"Some very clever local women came up with the idea," Mr McEvoy said. "They discussed the idea back and forth. It needed a shove forward and someone had to take the reins.
"I thought I had some time to invest in this. I come from the unique position that I wasn't raised in the community. I moved into it in the last decade and I thought perhaps I can see things how other locals might not.
"My wife and I chose Colbinabbin as our home because of the wonderful people here. It is already a great place to raise a family, but we want to ensure it stays that way for generations to come."
Mr Morante said he and his partner were thrilled by the community's support.
"We think it's a terrific idea," he said. "In the sense, it secures the shop for the community. I know of a few other examples like this where it has worked out."
Mr McEvoy said the community was opening up a prospectus to start the cooperative or shareholder-model company.
"We would need to bring together about $400,000 to $450,000," he said.
"That would cover the purchase of the shop, refurbishment, and initial renovations to open the place up and make it lighter and more inviting.
"That would also help with working capital to run the business. While it seems like a lot of money, if we get the entire community buying in, we would only be looking for a minimum buy-in of $500 to $1000.
"We have already had several people say they will put in $10,000 to $20,000. It would also be open to businesses as well as individuals."
Mr McEvoy said this same model had worked in other towns, with a chosen board tasked with making the bigger decisions of the store.
"As far as the day-to-day running, we will employ locals," he said. "We will have about 100 staffed hours, so we would need the equivalent of two staff wages."
Mr McEvoy said the town would meet together in about two weeks so residents could put forward their ideas for the store.
"It's a big deal to our community," he said. "This is a unique situation. Usually these types of cooperatives spring up when the store may have already closed.
"This is not the case we're looking at here. It's a unique opportunity to purchase the store and move it into the future.
"The general store is a very vital piece of infrastructure to our community.
"It's a post office and operates the mail run three days a week. Also, if you need basic staples like milk or bread, that's available to you with the general store.
"Alternatively, you would need to travel 20 to 25 kilometres to another local centre or about 40 kilometres to Bendigo.
"We would lose that convenience if we didn't have the store around."
Mr McEvoy said the investment could also help develop the store into an even better asset for the community.
"We could potentially create more of a meeting place," he said. "It would help localise the economy if it had a bit more to offer.
"It also would have the potential to turn over the profit, which we could give back to the community and put into other community ventures."
Mr McEvoy said the cooperative was looking for further investors.
"Ideally, we want as much investment as possible from locals, but we also don't want to create a strain on the local community to make it happen," he said.
"If we can get help from slightly further afield, that would be great too. It can be from individuals or businesses."
Mr McEvoy said anyone who wanted to contribute should contact him on email@example.com
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