I worked in Sydney’s last ticket shop. Without you you are lost

Last Friday, after 25 years, the doors of the last remaining NSW card shop closed. The little old bell that rang every time a customer walked in became the store’s death knell as the final days approached. It heralded the lost opportunities of discovery, learning and companionship that customers would experience as they scoured the shelves. The diversity of people coming in enriched the experience for everyone. This little shop was a microcosm of what a community should be.

A recent article by Tim Barlass explained the reasons for the impending closure of Map Center in Parramatta, where I’ve worked for the past 18 months. Since that article, the store has been inundated with online orders, telephone inquiries and customers, many of whom were unaware the store still existed or ever existed.

Jane Foster, who worked at the recently closed card center.

Jane Foster, who worked at the recently closed card center.Credit:Fairfax

This strong response has reaffirmed to owner Dianne Eggins that the printed map is still wanted, needed and preferred, and not just by a “pre-GPS” or “pre-Google map” demographic. Young people do appreciate the printed map. It is a required part of study in NSW schools and while that may not translate into a love of maps and navigation, it does provide insight into the printed map and how to use it. Young and old want to know where they are in the world, where they are going and more importantly, that they have not lost their way.

During the recent school holidays, Ollie, about 10 years old, walked into the store with his mother and older sister. Cards were his thing and he wanted to learn to read them. With money saved in hand, he looked carefully for a while before choosing a “1:25K topo” of his surroundings and a protractor (a “1:25K topo” is a topographic map with contour lines extending 1 cm in height on the card indicating 250m in the field). He waited patiently while the card was printed, trimmed and folded.

Another young local couple would visit very often. They would show pictures of their latest adventure and reveal plans for the next. They seemed to be on a perpetual road trip – dreamers and doers – and having just bought a car for $1, returned to the store on the last day to say goodbye, collect maps and guidebooks for their next adventure.

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And then there was Kevin – a kind man whose father taught him map reading skills and bushcraft which he passed on to his sons. He spends days exploring areas on his own (with every security plan imaginable due to his solo exploits). It is enviable to have his continued sense of adventure and the generosity to share his knowledge.

How can we experience such warm interactions online? Building and light rail development has not only brought our customers to a restrictive method of purchasing tickets, but this limited option also represents missed opportunities and potential. People need to have a card in their hands, study it and know that it is suitable for their purpose.

Inability to do so is the most common customer complaint when discussing the store’s closure. Ironically, customers will now be forced into a screen to buy a map that provides a wider view and orients them much better than one that can be unreliable and restrictive, dictating only the most direct route.