Drought has forced shops and cafes in small country towns across the state to close their doors, but Lockhart, in the Riverina, is bucking the trend. The town, with a population of around 1000, is getting a bakery and to say they're excited about it is an understatement.
It was a somewhat disjointed interview when The Land spoke to the new bakery owners on site, days before it opened, with people constantly stopping to have a better look, pop their head in and ask a question.
Lockhart Shire mayor, Rodger Schirmer said it was because many people in town could not quite believe it was actually happening.
"When the news came 12 months or more ago that there was someone interested in bringing a bakery to Lockhart people thought 'yeah right, we've heard this before'," Cr Schirmer said.
"But Steve and Leah Peters, who own the Coolamon bakery, have made the decision to come to Lockhart."
Steve Peters said he also had a hard time convincing locals that he was serious.
"The first day I turned up here, I opened the door and a lady stopped me and said 'what's happening here?'," Mr Peters said.
"I said 'It's a bakery', she said 'no, no it's not, we've heard the baker is not coming here anymore' and I said 'well I own the building and I am the baker so I'm pretty sure'."
In the lead up to the opening yesterday (December 4), Mr Peters said their Coolamon bakery had been inundated with people from Lockhart driving 80 kilometres to check out what would soon be on offer in their town.
Obviously if the weather isn't favourable and you can't generate interest through agricultural production, we have to look at other ways of doing it, like tourism.Cr Rodger Schirmer, Lockhart Shire Mayor
"If I go outside, everyone asks lots of questions, I'll get 20 people asking me something on the way to the supermarket," Mr Peters said.
"So I thought I would put a big message on Facebook, it was a long one, but it was shared 80 something times and had around 400 likes in the first couple of hours.
"We're trying to maintain that excitement, we want it to feel like their bakery."
Cr Schirmer explained the excitement was based on much more than simply being able to buy a fresh donut.
"Obviously if the weather isn't favourable and you can't generate interest through agricultural production, we have to look at other ways of doing it, like tourism," Cr Schirmer said.
"When you get people like Steve Peters, setting up a bakery in town, it attracts people and there are so many grey nomads, as well as young families, travelling Australia.
"They come into these towns and when they see the bakery, museum, water tower mural, butcher, coffee shop, they stop an replenish.
"The caravan park is rarely less than half full now, the visitations are incredible, the museum saw 3000 visitors in 2017, 4000 in 2018 and 5000 already for this year."
He said locals may also be more likely to stay in Lockhart to do their shopping if they could get good coffee and bread in town.
But why did the Peters choose to back Lockhart and make the investment in the small town?
"We've been here several times and we thought that there's not a lot here, there's nothing after hours and also Leah came from here," Mr Peters said.
"The town has lots of oomph, the Spirit of the Land, Picnic Races, the new water tower mural and people are coming for that, but people need to eat.
"We know a bakery will lift a town, we've seen that in Coolamon. About 10 years ago every second shop in Coolamon was empty, nothing was happening, but a few of us decided to start up there and things changed."
Mrs Peters said she was very excited to reconnect with locals she grew up with.
"I have so many great memories of Lockhart, it's just great to come back and maybe help out a bit," Mrs Peters said.
Mr Peters said they would employ two to four staff to start with but planned on increasing that number to 12, to match their Coolamon bakery.
"Apart from the baker, all the staff will be locals, I received 18 resumes before we even opened, most before I even asked for them," Mr Peters said.
As they did not yet have a baker they would be open from nine to five and would bring over fresh bread and pastries from the Coolamon site. But the Peters hope to soon have nearly every product made on site and are even considering expanding the business upstairs, if their gamble on this small country town pays off.
- Steve's Bakery and Cafe will be open seven days from December 4.