ICONIC clothing store Freijah Menswear has closed its doors after serving the Wimmera community for more than 50 years.
Owners and siblings Phil Freijah and Marcelle Fulton locked up the Firebrace Street, Horsham shop for the last time on May 17.
Phil said closing the store felt like the end of an era.
"It's been lovely to meet all the customers who come in regularly. A lot of the older customers would come in and just say hello too - that's what I'll miss the most," he said.
"The customers are disappointed that we're closing, but it's the way it is. I've been there for 35 years, so it's time for me to move on to something different."
Phil and Marcelle's dad, Joe, and their three uncles, Tony, Eddie and George, got into the retail business in the 1960s by opening shops in Robinvale and Nhill.
"They had a general shop in Robinvale first. Then they hawked around the state in trucks, selling things to farmers. They then opened a shop in Nhill, and a few years later they opened Horsham," Phil said.
Freijah Brother opened on Firebrace Street in 1966. The business first started as a general store selling men's, women's and children's clothing, suitcases, manchester, rugs and knitting supplies. By the mid-1970s the shop was just selling clothing.
In 1981, Joe and Tony decided to open a second shop in Roberts Avenue, Horsham called Freijah Fashions, which just sold women's wear. The Freijah Brother store changed to only sell menswear and children's clothes.
Phil said he started working at Freijah Brother when he was 18, mainly on the weekends.
"I stared working on Saturday mornings to make a bit of money. I enjoyed talking to the customers and helping them out," he said.
Marcelle started working in the business about 26 years ago. Phil's own son, Lachie, became the third generation to work at the shop about four years ago.
"Lachie is 19 and he started working on weekends just like I did," he said.
Phil took over running of the family business when Joe had a stroke about 20 years ago.
"It was good to keep the family business on track. The family was proud that I was able to keep it going," he said.
The shop celebrated its 50th birthday in 2016. Phil said it was a significant achievement for the business.
For many people in the Wimmera community, Freijah Menswear became synonymous with formal men's clothing, particularly for weddings and debutante balls.
"We would measure them up and hire out the suits for those special occasions. In the last couple of years we've moved away from hiring and more to selling since it's cheaper now to buy," he said.
Life at the shop has not been without its challenges and changes. Phil said the introduction of online shopping had significantly affected business.
"We put the business up for sale and times have changed with the internet. You walk down Firebrace Street and there are so many empty shops," he said.
"It's not just happening in Horsham, it's happening all many country towns. Even the big cities are struggling. People should support locals to keep them going."
Long-term employee Colleen Eldridge has been working for the business on-and-off for more than 45 years.
Mrs Eldridge worked at both the Firebrace Street and Roberts Avenue stores, taking time off to have her children.
"I was 15 when I started at the shop and I just turned 60. I worked at Edwards shoe shop for about four months, then I went into Freijah Brother and Tony gave me a job straight away," she said.
"I remember when I was a little girl at Dimboola, the Freijah brothers had a van and would come onto the farm selling clothes. Tony was like my second dad, and Phil and Marcelle were like my brother and sister. It was like being a part of the family.
"The family were such a wonderful support to me when I lost my husband to cancer two years ago. You could not ask for more supportive and loving people to work for - they were just wonderful."
Mrs Eldridge said she had seen many changes during her time at the shop.
"It was interesting to see the fashions changing over the years. There are huge differences in the way people shop and I don't know if it's been for the better," she said.
"You used to have really busy times when people would shop, during field days and the show for instance. It's sad now that so many businesses are struggling because more people are buying online. There isn't that personalised service anymore and we really tried to provide that to all our customers.
"The introduction of credit cards was also a big change and we had to adapt to how people would pay for their items. We used to have accounts for regular customers, but of course no one does that now."
Mrs Eldridge finished working at the shop three weeks ago. She is now working part-time at Earles, Horsham.
"I feel lost not going to the shop - it's been such a big part of my life for so long," she said.
"It's such a sad end to this business and a great loss for the community. It's such a shame that businesses are dying in smaller towns."
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