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For many a local, the name Smith's has become known in the city
as a cozy and quirky storefront in the Melbourne Building. Since
1976, locals have grown attached to the quaint former bookstore
and its eclectic collection of rare and secondhand books.
After almost closing down, Smith's has been reinvented as the
city's newest events venue. From cabaret and burlesque to live
music and theatre, the new Smiths Alternative promises to entertain revelers
with a smorgasbord of local and upcoming talent.
New owners Jorian Gardner and Domenic Mico share a wealth of
experience in the arts community, not to mention a drive to provide Canberra
with a vibrant community space for the many local creatives that call the
"What we really want is to be the next performing arts space in Canberra
-- because we don't have enough of them," Gardner says.
"We want to be able to offer a space for people to do the weird and the
wonderful and for people to see the weird and the wonderful. It's not about
a money-making exercise; for us it's artistically satisfying to give a place for
new people to do new work."
Gardner describes the space as a black box theatre -- a blank canvas for
performances of all shapes and sizes.
"I'm quite happy if someone comes in and says, 'Jorian, I want to paint
the stage yellow and that wall green'. I'll be like, 'OK, just paint it black again
when you leave'. There aren't many of those spaces left," he says.
Besides the addition of a stage and a baby grand piano, the eclectic venue
now sports a qualified barista and bar, while stocking vintage wear from the
popular Braddon clothing store April's Caravan.
"The books and the arts stuff we've got, and a few collectables and
interesting things, go very well with that vintage feel," he says. "We feel the
clothes will complement the whole thing."
A former journalist, Gardner has worked with Mico before on Canberra's
festival circuit, including the National Multicultural Festival which Mico once
directed. No stranger to Canberra's arts scene, Mico's resume also includes
director of Tuggeranong Community Arts Centre, plus former owner of the
Mico describes the duo's vision for the space as "like a permanent
festival", while Gardner likens the store to the intimate burlesque bars and
performance spaces synonymous with Melbourne's inner suburbs.
"There hasn't been a cabaret performance space in the city in a long, long
time," Mico says.
"So there's no place where the cabaret scene can go -- where there's a
decent stage and a decent piano in a small venue where you can put on a
show," Gardner adds
"Our previous ventures together in the festivals have been highly successful,
so we know that these things work.
"We set up a bar in the middle of Civic Square with a big tent [during the
Fringe Festival] and we put on acts similar to what we are going to have here
and they turned up in their thousands because they loved that there was
something in Canberra that was actually its own art, its own expression."
Although officially launched in April, Mico says the duo had considered
purchasing an eatery or arts building for some time beforehand.
"Because of the atmosphere that was created during the festivals, we
wanted a space, we wanted to work together and just by chance, [we found
out that] Smith's was going," he says.
Gardner says the business -- formerly owned by Peter Strong, who is now
executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia -- fell into
"He's so happy we're continuing the Smith's tradition," Gardner says. "His
biggest fear was that they'd only be a picture of the former bookstore. We
were the right people for him, he was the right person for us at the right time
at the right place. And it's perfect for us because it already had a regular
following, it already had an arts focus, it's had events."
And for those with a special attachment to the former bookstore, Smith's
hasn't completely changed.
"It will still give people that old feel -- things like keeping the old book
shelves. The books are still here," Gardner says.
A: 76 Alinga Street, Canberra City
P: 6247 4459
"What we really want is to be the next
performing arts space in Canberra --
because we don't have enough of them."
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