June 5, 2012
The Deli on Woolwich Street, West Leederville is not your average corner store.
In fact it stopped trading as a delicatessen years ago.
But what the place lacks in milk, bread and newspapers, it makes up for in inspiring artwork, unique events and people you would happily call your mates.
The Deli is now home to a group of young creatives, or “Deli dwellers” as they call themselves, who are transforming the unassuming building into a suburban cultural hub.
The Deli project started 18 months ago, when property developer Kyle Jeavons bought the old Woolwich Street Deli with the intention of demolishing the original residence and building on the land.
But Mr Jeavons saw an opportunity in The Deli’s bare walls and gave his then-tenants permission to decorate them before they were knocked down.
“I’m pretty familiar with the arts thing in Perth and I’m pretty supportive of it,” Mr Jeavons said.
“I told them, we’re going to knock it down, but we don’t have a big issue with what you do with it (before that).”
From then on, the dwellers and their friends, a group which includes Perth artists Jackson Harvey and Nathan Scott, began painting the walls to create striking artwork in almost every room of the house.
Now The Deli’s latest residents are taking the project further.
Matt Bowen (21) and David ‘Donnas’ Francis (22), both friends of the former dwellers, took over the lease on January 1.
Mr Francis said they’d seen The Deli’s potential as a music venue and exhibition space long before they moved in.
“The front room was made to be a stage and outside was made to be a relaxing area,” Mr Francis said.
“We’ve got such a great scope to create something that hasn’t been done before, at least not in Perth.”
Last month the Deli dwellers hosted two free ‘Day of the Deli’ events – a music festival for 220 people and an art exhibition that attracted 150.
To show the full extent of The Deli’s wall art the dwellers had to sacrifice their privacy, as they opened their home, including their bedrooms, to strangers.
But Mr Francis said it was worth it.
“Because we’re so close to this place … we don’t really realise how cool it is,” he said.
“But then we get people walking in who’ve never been to The Deli before who are like: ‘oh man, this place is so awesome’.
“It was really cool to have some interest from parties who had just heard about it through the grapevine.”
The events have received a positive response so far – even from neighbours – but Mr Bowen said keeping the events under wraps was still a major priority.
“I’m sure if we wanted to hype events up a lot more they could be bigger,” he said.
“But it wouldn’t be seen as quite as delicate or quite as individual.”
Mr Bowen is eager to expand The Deli as an underground music venue and is planning several “secret” events in the near future.
He said attracting attention from the police or council was an ongoing concern.
But an even bigger threat to the Deli dwellers’ ambitions is the building’s impending demolition, which could be any time in the next three to nine months.
Until that day, they would make the most of their unique home and keep sharing it with others, Mr Bowen said.
“So far, we just hope that we’ve shown people that you don’t have to have a lot of money behind you or a (licensed) venue to fall back on to give people a good time,” he said.
“We’d like to preserve it for as long as we can.”
Mr Jeavons said he would delay the demolition as long as possible, but it was inevitable.
He said he was looking forward to living in one of two townhouses to be built on the property, while a friend would live in the other.
But he said would be sad to see The Deli go.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s a journey for us as well,” he said.
“When one door shuts another one opens somewhere else.”
Mr Jeavons said Perth needed more of what the Deli dwellers were offering.
“It makes people appreciate what can happen with a bit of thought and community spirit,” he said.
Photos: Andrea Tchacos