Iconic cafe closes doors

Ann Perkins and long-time employee Shelley Heist with the smiles that have greeted many a customer at The Swinging Bridge Cafe.

This week will bring to a conclusion what has been a very special chapter in Adelong’s history, as the Swinging Bridge Café closes its doors for the very last time after 17 years of trading in the town. It will be with more than just a tinge of sadness that owner Ann Perkins winds up operations, but it will also be with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and satisfaction of a job well done.

Ann. who is originally from Tumut, along with husband Wal from Adelong, had been living and working for some years in Wollongong, carving out their futures and raising a family. They had always planned to move back to the picturesque valleys of their birth place; however the timing of this decision was ultimately hastened by the ill-health of Wal’s father.

Upon relocating to Adelong they purchased the Café and after many long hours of blood, sweat and tears, renovating the interior to an operational standard and injecting new life between its four walls, the Swinging Bridge Cafe was open for business.

For Ann it was a huge transition from the hustle and bustle of city life to the more laid-back, carefree lifestyle of Adelong. But just as she had loved the vibrancy and fast-pace that epitomised city living, she equally embraced the warmth, friendliness and fervent sense of community that only living in a small country town can offer.

“Everyone was just so friendly and wouldn’t walk past you without a smile and a greeting. You just don’t find the same connections between people in the city,” said Ann.

The town’s response after the devastating floods of 2010 encapsulated for Ann the true value of living in Adelong and she is still touched by the unconditional, selfless actions of those who assisted her and other business owners and residents during a very difficult time.

“After the water had subsided I came into the shop and saw thick mud covering everything. I picked up a broom and attempted to sweep the floor without really making any progress and thought, what am I going to do. The very next minute an army of men and women just appeared from nowhere and took over. It’s the generosity of people, some I didn’t even know, that make you appreciate where you live,” reflected Ann.

Some four years ago during a period of adverse health and subsequent recovery, Ann was forced to re-evaluate her life. She felt that “age was catching up” and she could no longer compromise her health working long hours, contending with the organisational duties and endless associated paperwork which accompanies owning and running your own business. The Café was placed on the market and whilst Ann and her dedicated staff have continued operating with the hope a buyer would come forth, Ann feels the time is now right to bow out.

The Café has been the venue for many occasions in its long lifetime including meetings, interviews and the celebratory milestones of birthdays and anniversaries.

Ann singles out one group in particular which will leave a lasting impression. “I will miss the coffee club on Wednesdays. They were full of jokes and their cheeky humour and positive attitudes could always lift spirits and fill the shop with a wonderful atmosphere,” she said.

Working in the shop has afforded Ann the unique opportunity of meeting and conversing not just with locals, but people from all walks of life both from Australia and overseas and each with their own story to share and tell.  More than just a provider of meals Ann has been an advisor, confidant, a kind ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.

Just as she has mourned the loss of her older customers who have come and gone, she has had the pleasure and delight of witnessing children growing into fine young men and women and in some instances to have families of their own.

The Swinging Bridge Café has enjoyed a wonderful patronage during its years of operation, due in no small part to its consistently outstanding reputation for providing excellent food and friendly service. Ann advises to be successful in business requires not only hard work, but also recognising the need for innovation and creating the changes necessary to remain relevant, to better serve her customer’s needs.

More than just a Café and lolly shop, Ann also catered for people seeking that special gift, provided Medicare facilities and even stocked the basic necessities for those camping across the river at the caravan park.

Employment opportunities in small towns can be few and far between and the Swinging Bridge Café has provided an important starting point for many youngsters entering the workforce.  Ann could not even hazard a guess at the number of locals who had gained employment in the shop, “suffice to say it was a lot”.

“I believe in giving them a go and we have had some fantastic girls and even a couple of boys work with us over the years,” she said. Ann reserves special mention for Shelley Heist who has worked with her for just under 11 years, sharing the good times and the bad and always with a smile on her face.

Although sad to be winding up the business, Ann will now no longer be tied down by the constraints of the Café and will be free to “up and go wherever and whenever I please”.

She looks forward to spending more time with her children and six precious grandchildren who all reside in Sydney and Wollongong. She is however quite content to remain in Adelong, always believing it to be a most beautiful and special place to live and retire.

As this week will be the very last for the Swinging Bridge Café, Ann encourages all her friends and faithful customers to drop in for a final visit. “I would like to say on behalf of Wal and myself a big thankyou to everyone for their support over the years. It has been greatly appreciated,” said Ann.

The Swinging Bridge Café will forever have a special place in the memories of many. Whether it be the excited children racing each other to the counter to be the first to buy their favourite treats. The chitter-chatter of friends catching up over a coffee. The warm greeting and friendly smiles of the wonderful staff, or the vision through the front window just on closing time of Wal eating his dinner after a day’s work, while he and Ann catch up on the day’s happenings;  the Café has undeniably stamped its place in Adelong’s history.

As we converse a little girl enters the shop and stops for a chat, proudly showing Ann her special new pens, her reward from the day’s school activities. As she eagerly makes her way to the counter just as hundreds have done before her, with eyes wide in anticipation at the magnificent selection of sugary delights, Ann concedes it is the children she will miss most of all.