• Lee-ann Simpson

Our Story

Our story begins with our farm ‘Simpson Produce’.

We are what you would call first generation farmers, this essentially means that we started from the ground up. We didn’t inherit our farm we built it. My husband Michael comes from more than five generations of farming in Ballandean our children being the sixth. So we have the knowledge and experience of generations of farming behind us.

Our farm has grown up in an industry where it is becoming harder and harder for a small family farm to survive in. We have struggled against the elements, the markets and faced all the highs and lows that come with farming. What we did not foresee was with the relationships that we made and built that they had false agendas. We put so much work and effort into one particular relationship that it put our farm into jeopardy. We found ourselves in a situation where we could no longer pay our suppliers and had no money to go on with. Fortunately we had also developed very good and strong relationships’ with others. These relationships had helped keep our farm going, but it still gave us nothing to live on.

I was forced into a situation where I had to start selling off the things around us, things that had made our home. I sold a lounge and bought another, I sold our beds and then bought replacements at much lower prices and when I needed more money for bills or living I would do it again. I had the ability to see potential in things that some people had become bored with.

I kind of always had this dream that I wanted to open a vintage store, full of all unwanted treasures. With no money to start it up I become determined to find a way around it, it was just the matter of putting my mind to it. I approached our local general store and asked if they minded if I could occupy the space in their little shed next to their shop. To my delight they had said yes :D

My dear husband who would do anything for me swallowed his pride and helped me install some pallets to get it started. I’ll never forget his comment ‘Everybody is going to think we have gone broke’, I merely replied ’Have you not noticed we are broke’. At the time I had not fully comprehended what he had put aside for me. It’s one of the hardest things for men to face when their farm fails, its their pride, time, effort, dreams and determination to be the best at what they do. to not be able to provide for their families just crushes their soul and spirit.

By then I was too far into my depression and on the verge of a breakdown to realise how much he had done for me. We had been known as a decent size farming operation and had employed a good number of people. Our reputation mean a great deal to us. To help overcome our struggles with the farm my little vintage store Le’Bel was born. At the time I’m pretty sure my dear husband was just entertaining my dreams to keep me happy and sane. I cannot begin to tell you how much this small act meant to me.

Le’Bel was compiled of mine and my sister’s name Lee-ann and Belinda. We had come up with the name some time ago when we would sit around dreaming about opening a place together. So with my sister’s permission in June 2015 my little store began trading. We didn’t make a lot of money but it was enough to buy groceries and pay some of the day to day bills.

I was later approached by the owners of the old Shiraz restaurant and asked if I would like to rent out their building. This was so exciting, a coffee shop in a vintage store what a brilliant opportunity. I was so excited, we were taking this to the next level. So in March 2016 just under a year after starting the business we opened in our new location.

We were trading along as Le’Bel till one day we had a visit from fair trading who informed us that we needed a license to sell second hand used goods. Now remember this business was started to support our circumstances on our farm so when we were informed that we needed a license that cost a substantial amount of money that we were forced to stop selling second had, we then continued on as just a cafe. We rebranded as The Farm Gate Cafe in August 2017 as farming is what we had come from and what we were still heavily involved in.

It soon became apparent that it was not enough as just a cafe and we had to close the doors. It was then that a very dear friend of mine gave me the best advice, ‘you need to do what you are good at and what makes you happy’ and that was selling second hand. I sat back and thought about everything that I had learned in the past two years. I needed to find a balance between the local and tourist industry, Ballandean as much as I love it was too far out of Stanthorpe to attract a constant local trade so we started to look for a place in town.

We needed a bigger shop to really show of the furniture and collectible items. We found this amazing space on Folkestone st with great rental price and supportive landlords who generally wanted us to succeed. Next we needed a name that spoke of who we were. I don’t like to discriminate with the era’s, to me I find treasures through out every decade. But what I loved most was the stories, stories from when people would remember items from their childhood. Generally these items are of Vintage nature because they are still within our lifetime of memories. The second thing I loved about the business was travelling the roads to find new stock, that was how the name ‘Vintage Roads’ was decided on .

We quickly outgrew the space and were finding it difficult, we had successfully gained the local support however we had lost the tourist side of it. So after one year in we decided we were going to take another big step and move to an even bigger location just outside Stanthorpe on the highway. Close enough for locals but right on the highway where everyone would drive past at some point.

Now we have the perfect location and the most amazing space to work with.

The year 2020 meant a lot of things to many people but for us it was a year without being able to grow on the farm due to no water. The drought has been very difficult for many people and I was grateful that we had built this business to lean on.

In March 2020 we had enough of a downfall to start preparing for the next season. But like COVID had effected many businesses we unfortunately felt the blow of it in 2021. It was the worst pricing season for tomatoes on record, we would have been better off taking another year off. Unfortunately that's what farming is and we must endure. We will not end our story here and we will continue until someone tells us we cannot.

This shop has saved my life in more ways than one, I can not tell you how much the people I have met along this difficult journey have changed my life, and saved me from taking a different turn. I have come to realise that our greatest lessons are learnt in our toughest times. I've created a space not only for myself but others also, and we welcome everyone with open arms.

To be continued......

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