‘Gone in a flash!’

The aftermath of COVID has seen the closure of many stores. The months-long lockdown and lack of clients precipitated their downfalls. Some are lucky enough to still be standing. These are usually mid-level and high-volume franchises. They can afford to trade while closing some branches or brands. However, others are not so lucky. Small businesses are especially vulnerable, even with a helping hand. We must note though that some retailers have closed down for good even before the pandemic. Chalk it up to bad luck or poor management; these stores died soon, leaving us only with scattered memories. Kindly note that these are all stores who no longer have an Aussie presence. They might still trade overseas or indeed as a new entity, but not as their former brand name. Allow me to feature a number of them who were gone too soon. There may be others, but these are the names that matter to me. 

1. Borders. The bookstore chain was once the face of the bookshop industry. Their hold reached Sydney and they were once ubiquitous in malls around the city. When new released were launched, they were the go-to place. Latest Harry Potter? Borders. Dan Brown? Borders. Jack West Jr.? You get the drill. Their strength was also a double-edged sword. All their branches were big concept iterations, sometimes even spread out over two levels. The extent of other bookstores such as Angus and Robertson and Dymocks, paled in comparison to them. With their surfeit of material, it really looked like a booklover’s Elysium. 

However, big spaces also meant considerable rent. Thus, the venture was unsustainable. It reminded me of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The banks kept lending equity to homebuyers and when the bubble burst…whack! You’re out. I bought a few items from them in time. Magazines, a DVD, and others. I even signed up for their newsletter. I noted that, sometimes, their stores were bigger than some libraries. They picked the perfect time: before the advent of online shopping. They had been around much longer than iPhones and tablets. They shut all their stores about a decade ago. Note that the Borders chains in Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand operated independently of their US and UK counterparts. Regardless, I wonder: were they able to get rid of all their stock? 

2. Esprit. This company was founded sixty years ago in San Fran. In the prior decades, it had expanded its footprint across Asia and the Pacific. I remember buying a nice check shirt back when they had a Myer concession. Often, we would shop at their factory outlet in Market City. I noticed that they had a lot of stock, sometimes in different colours. Sizing was not a problem as they had heaps. This was probably a red flag that people weren’t buying, despite their reasonable pricing. On Boxing Day 2011, we managed to score a few bargains including some pants and a thin cotton tee. 

Have I mentioned their rewards program? It stacked up well compared to other stores. Aside from Boxing Day, we got a bag for my dad. On Good Friday, 2017, I nabbed a reversible pair of shorts down to 25 from 90 bucks. In their Birkenhead Point outlet, I grabbed a purplish polo with prints. Given the examples, it’s clear that they did many things right, but in their cut-throat industry, it may not be enough. The last purchase we made was a handbag for my sister. Not long after that, we saw on the news that they were closing all 67 stores in Oz and New Zealand. By 2020, they had retreated from the Asia as well. I still have most of the purchases; only the pants are gone. As they say, ‘It was good while it lasted.’ 

3. Delivery Hero. Some of you might not be as familiar with this one, but they were a leading food delivery service here in 2016. They are originally from Germany. I remember seeing their $14 off 20 promos, which happened almost every weekday. In terms of value, it couldn’t get any better. Nowadays, you could get $6 off but not $14. We took full advantage of these offers; I even had their app for easy ordering. Not everyday, mind you, but certainly whenever we needed a break from the tried and tested cooking. While the deal was very welcome, the service was no pushover either. It arrived prompt, accurate, and on time. We never had to complain about their service. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the company is now under the Foodora brand. It hasn’t been the same.

4. EasyWay. This Taiwanese beverage company once operated 74 stores in the country. They were the original milk tea vendor before others followed suit. I remember buying from them a few times, earning points for my visit. I believe I even claimed a reward one time. Their drinks had a light taste and came in many delicious flavours. I tried more of them over time. I became aware of the best flavours. It wasn’t just milk tea; they also served fruit juices and others. Apart from having many tangs, they also came reasonably priced. My mum was an avid fan of their products and the redemptions came easily for her. Sadly, their brand disappeared quickly and by now, there are no more EasyWay stores in Oz. They have since rebranded as EpicTea, with others like Chatime carrying the torch. 

5. Three. While I was still studying, this was a well-known telco, with a presence in both mobile plans and mobile broadband. The brand has a Hong Kong background. I signed my first mobile phone contract with them, which was for a year. This was before the age of unlimited calls and texts. At the time, you had like $300 worth of calls. A few of my peers were also with them. I remember the time when I wanted to switch providers. Perhaps due to their declining client list, they really wanted me to stay. They dangled all sorts of deals with me, but I said no. The final wangler was the latest iPhone. I thought about it for ten seconds before disagreeing. They let me go. 

Not long after that, Vodafone phased out the company, which continues as 3 in the UK. The two Aussie telcos merged in 2009. By August 2013, Three was relegated to the land of the sleeping. To be honest, I wouldn’t call them an astounding company; hence my insistence on another telco. Their story goes on, with about 130 million users worldwide in 2018…but just not in Oz. Anyhow, they’ll always be my first mobile provider. For that, they deserve a bow.

Dihua Street, Taipei
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