By Sunny Liu
The CBD’s last doll and teddy bear hospital and classic toy store, Dafel, is being forced to close due to high rental increase.
Having been at the same location in the Block Arcade for 77 years, the shop is closing its doors because the owners cannot afford the rent, which has nearly doubled this year.
Mother and daughter Pauline Seaton and Lisa Brener have been running this beloved local gem for the past 25 years and Ms Brener says it breaks her heart to have to close the business until they can find a more affordable location.
“We don’t want to give up. We need these kinds of stores for the children to buy toys,” Ms Brener said.
“Melbourne is becoming more like a chain store destination and there are fewer and fewer unique store like us.”
“When you walk around the city, everything is becoming very repetitive. Now to keep small businesses going is not viable anymore with the high rent,” Ms Brener said.
According to Ms Brener, her landlord doubled the rent due to a hike on land tax.
“It’s impossible for businesses like us to survive in such an economic climate. There is no law that protects commercial tenants from rental increases,” she said.
“It just comes down to if we can’t pay the rent, we leave.”
Dafel specialises in old-fashioned dolls and teddy bears and also provides repair services dubbed the toy “hospital”.
Its history dates back to 1941 when founder Ada Schmit opened the shop to counter the shortage of toys available for children during the war.
Dafel has built generations of loyal customers, and Ms Brener said it had become almost a family tradition for some families to come to Dafel for new toys and repairs.
“We have had customers who burst into tears when they heard we were closing. They say we are the first stop they make when they come to the city but now they’ve got nowhere else to go,” she said.
Ms Brener has expressed her frustration towards the unsupportive environment for small businesses.
“It’s a shame that the government and landlords don’t understand the importance of keeping small businesses in the city. It makes us feel that they don’t care about us,” she said.
The unfortunate situation is a blow to Ms Brener’s mother, who is well into her 70s.
“Mum has put her heart and soul into this shop. We don’t want to lose this business and we’ve tried everything to get help. But there’s nothing there to help us,” Ms Brener said.
“I understand that rent should increase. But it shouldn’t increase so much that we can no longer afford to stay here.”
Ms Brener said the city’s retail industry, especially independent retailers, was facing a recession due to shifts in consumer habits.
“There’s been a change in the way people shop. You don’t see many people carrying shopping bags around anymore. If companies like Myer are struggling, so are the small businesses.”