Canberra Centre Masthead

Where everybody knows your name…

Amanda Whitley

It’s a common sight…tourists lobbing into Canberra’s CBD and asking, “Where IS everything?”. That’s because they’re looking in the wrong place. To find Canberra’s true soul, you need to venture into the suburbs.

One of the most charming quirks of Canberra is the way suburbs were built around its local shops. Now-iconic ‘Shops’ signs point the way to hidden gems – everything from fashion to fine-dining.

But over the last few decades, the growth of Canberra’s ‘town centres’ has seen large shopping malls become the focal point of retail and restaurants, with smaller suburban shopping centres like Giralang, Latham and Fadden falling victim to the convenience of these one-stop-shops.

But a quiet renaissance is underway. Savvy entrepreneurs are recognising that Canberrans want to hang out in their own neighbourhoods; they want to pop down to the local bakery to pick up some just-out-of-the-oven bread, join their friends for a drink before walking home, or catch up for brunch without parking being an issue.

Common Grounds at Gowrie.

Common Grounds at Gowrie.

But it’s more than that. Our local shops are a unique part of our landscape and at the heart of our communities, according to Land Development Agency Chief Executive David Dawes.

“Creating suburbs is much more than just selling land and constructing the associated infrastructure. It is also about the development of sustainable communities where neighbours know each other and feel a sense of belonging,” he says.

The role the shops play in bringing the community together is highlighted by the very successful Parties at the Shops program, introduced as part of the Canberra Centenary celebrations and now an ongoing initiative.

“While Canberra may appear to be little more than politics, grey cardigans and Walter Burley Griffin to outsiders, those who know her well know the truth: that she is the vibrant, fun-filled home to exciting, engaged and dynamic communities and neighbourhoods,” says event founder, Amy Moon.

Two Before Ten at Aranda. Image: Food Porn Journal.

Two Before Ten at Aranda. Image: Food Porn Journal.

It’s the notion of nurturing the community that was behind Two Before Ten’s decision to relocate their very successful city coffee shop and eatery to Aranda. What was not so long ago a derelict building with a carpark full of seedy activity has become a 700 m2 café, bar, library, workspace and community gallery where people can connect.

“The cafe is a talking point for neighbours who might only ever give the good old Canberra wave to each other but who are now inviting one another for a coffee. It’s really cool,” says owner Chris Dennis.

It’s a similar story in Farrer, where Fox and Bow has been packing them in since it opened late last year. Kids play in the laneway featuring Steve Caddick’s colourful mural while parents kick back and enjoy a menu that is worth travelling for; suburban foodies enjoy an interior that wouldn’t be out of place in Lonsdale Street, Braddon.

Fox and Bow Cafe at Farrer. Image: Food Porn Journal.

Fox and Bow Cafe at Farrer. Image: Food Porn Journal.

Alex Piris has done more than open a coffee shop – he’s created a community hub, where locals while away the weekend to the sound of live music, sipping on wine picked up from the Post Office a couple of doors down.

It’s that sense of neighbourhood that is building in Braddon, thanks to modern pubs like Hopscotch where regular games nights and gigs foster the growing urban community. Down the block at The Hamlet, an eclectic assortment of food vendors encourage residents and visitors alike to grab some street food, pull up a bench and make new friends.

The Hamlet on Lonsdale Street, Braddon. Image: Facebook.

The Hamlet on Lonsdale Street, Braddon. Image: Facebook.

It’s a vibe that’s been going strong at the Griffith shops for years. This leafy strip — boasting Canberra’s only two-hatted fine diner in Aubergine, and the excellent Griffith Butchery, Mountain Creek Wholefoods, Organic Energy and Griffith Vietnamese, to name but a few — embodies everything that is great about ‘the shops’. The locally owned businesses; the friendly staff who not only know your name, but your ‘usual’; and the knowledge that this is your ‘hood.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Four local shops to check out


Head to Edgar’s Inn for relaxed pub fare, taste a quaint little slice of Brittany at Breizh Café, and fill up the fridge with an amazing selection of artisan charcuterie and cheese at Ainslie IGA.


Sip a wine and watch the world go by at Tilley’s, browse local art at The Front Gallery and Café, and lose yourself in the stacks of second-hand titles at Book Lore.


Savour some of Canberra’s best Asian food at Sukothai, browse the gorgeous items at White Apple Gifts, and revive with Campos Coffee from Farmer’s Daughter.


Stock up on amazing organic local fruit and vegetables from Choku Bai Jo, sip on coffee in the sun at Red Brick Espresso, and indulge your love for books, coffee and live music at Beyond Q.

Images of Two Before Ten and Fox and Bow Cafe taken by the uber-talented Food Porn Journal, with permission. Pop over and check out her droolworthy blog at

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Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author