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. This was a dilemma friends and Leichhardt locals Airlie Welch and Claire Bi often faced. So, they solved the problem themselves by opening their own boutique design and giftware store, Neighbourhood, on Norton Street.
Between them, Welch and Bi have experience in US retail, interior styling, and the Australian arts sector, and have lived in Europe, the UK and the US. The retail concept they have come up with brings together unique products by international designers and emerging local makers. “We wanted to build the store that we had always hoped for,” Bi tells Broadsheet.
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-moulded ceramics by Frizbee Ceramics of Brussels, and Zafferano glassware from Italy. There’s also tonics and bitters by Pyewackets in Lismore, Melbourne’s Atypic chocolates, and tote bags by Pan After (also from Melbourne).
“There’s some quirky stuff, there’s some irreverent stuff, but what we really want to do is make it feel like home, which has been our tagline,” says Bi, adding that any purchase can be wrapped up into a gift hamper.
All of the products are displayed on open white shelves to complement the gallery-like, yet welcoming, shopfront that looks out onto Norton Street. Bi explains the space has been laid out so customers aren’t overwhelmed by products when they enter the store, unlike other giftware stores.
“We strongly believe in the products that we’ve brought in and that they all each deserve some space to breathe, and you can actually take the time to admire each of the pieces that we carry.”
The pair are also hoping the store will help fill a void that has long been missing from the once-buzzing inner-west suburb, which was celebrated for its Italian culture. They hope the store’s adjacent studio – connected by a colourful mural by local artist Digby Webster – will serve as a community hub to run events, hold meetings or host workshops with local ceramicists, florists and bartenders for cocktail classes.
“This is a super vibrant community that has all sorts of interesting talents to offer. We hope that we can be the place for people to do that,” Bi says.