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Supermarket competition underpins battle by Castlemaine IGA owner to block Woolworths opening in regional town


It is rare for a growing regional town of 7,500 people to be without a Coles or a Woolworths supermarket, but Castlemaine in regional Victoria has always had just two IGA stores. 

That is about to change, with work on a Woolworths in the early stages of construction.

But the town’s fight for a second supermarket brand has been long and divisive.

Brendan Blake, managing director of what is known in town as the “big IGA” (Castlemaine Maxi IGA supermarket), has been a vocal and dogged opponent to any competitor coming to town for over a decade.

“I have spent my life running supermarkets and fighting applications for new stores; it is just a regular part of the business,” he said.

Mr Blake, who also owns supermarkets in Ballarat and Daylesford, is open about wanting to keep big supermarket brands out of Castlemaine.

IGA owner, Brendan Blake does not want another supermarket brand in Castlemaine.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

There is a second smaller IGA in Castlemaine that Mr Blake does not own.

“There are small mum and dad businesses that would be decimated if Woolworths came to town,” Mr Blake said.

Some residents are excited about having more competition in town. (Supplied: Facebook )

Legal action threatened

The supermarket owner has mounted a Facebook campaign against the proposed Woolworths on his IGA page.

He regularly posts controversial allegations about the building site.

“The site that’s been selected is a heavily contaminated gasworks site,” he said.

The EPA told the ABC it had inspected the site recently and was monitoring it closely.

“Excavation works are not occurring in the area of the former gasworks,” an EPA spokesperson said.

Brendan Blake took this photo in November, and says machinery was on site before the building permit was issued in December.(Supplied: Maxi IGA Castlemaine Facebook Page)

Mr Blake also claimed construction started in November without a permit.

The ABC has seen the building permit issued by the local council, and developer Lascorp said construction did not begin until it was issued in December.

The Woolworths store, opposite a primary school, is expected to employ more than 100 people.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Mr Blake’s posts have resulted in a threat of legal action from the developer’s lawyers, alleging they are “misleading and deceptive”.

“[The posts are] deliberately designed to enhance your commercial position as a rival supermarket retailer at the expense of our client,” Leon Zwier of law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler wrote on December 16, 2022. 

But Mr Blake said he had no intention of removing his posts, and no further action had been taken against him since that letter. 

“Every Facebook post I put up is backed up by data,” he said.

Construction is underway building a new Woolworths supermarket in Castlemaine.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

The Mount Alexander Shire Council labelled Mr Blake’s Facebook posts as “misinformation circulating in the community” and said the developer was not in breach of any regulations.

Residents have commented on Maxi IGA Castlemaine’s Facebook posts, accusing Mr Blake of marking up prices.(Supplied: Facebook )

Numerous locals commented on Mr Blake’s posts, complaining about his prices and the lack of competition, something he refuted.

“Our products are basically price matched against Coles and Woolworths, so if someone says our prices are expensive, I put up the same price as Coles and Woolworths,” he said. 

Jamie Mr McDonald says he is already a Woolworths shopper.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Some residents want big supermarket

Castlemaine father of two Jamie McDonald gets his groceries delivered by Woolworths, and says it is far cheaper than shopping at the local IGA.

“Hopefully, there will be a bit more competition in town, and prices will go down,” he said.

“We moved from Melbourne just before COVID and straight away noticed the difference in supermarket prices.

“It’s a monopoly, there hasn’t been much competition for prices.”  

He said it would be good for residents to have more choices at the local check-out.

Joel Carlon does not think the site is the right location for a big supermarket.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Living across the road from the development, resident Joel Carlon disagrees.

“I think it’s the wrong location,” he said.

He said residents near the development, which was opposite a primary school and on the main road into the historic town, felt disappointed it was going ahead.

“I thought they could have looked for a better location — it’s going to be pretty congested and chaotic around school time,” he said.

Elder Uncle Rick Nelson says a new development’s proximity to a creek is concerning. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert )

Elder disappointed about potential lost artefacts

Castlemaine elder Uncle Rick Nelson shares Brendan Blake’s concern about the new supermarket construction but for different reasons. 

A block of land bordering the development site includes a rock formation Uncle Rick described as an old creek bank used by his ancestors for camping, cooking and making tools.

A month ago, he wrote a letter to Woolworths expressing his concerns about the site, which he said was significant.

A local elder is worried the neighbouring development will impact this rock, which he considers a significant site. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert )

Mr Nelson is disappointed he did not get to look for artefacts before work started. 

“I know from personal observations, there’s grinding grooves 500 metres away where Aboriginal people would sit on the edge of the creek and grind up food or medicines,” he said.

Woolworths has entered into a lease agreement with developer Lascorp. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Developer says community will benefit 

A spokesperson for Lascorp said it had consulted with the EPA and adhered to all the relevant planning processes.

“We would like to confirm that there is absolutely no reason why anyone in the community should be concerned about any environmental issues in relation to this project,” he said.

Machinery at a construction site in Castlemaine.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

The developer maintained a town of Castlemaine’s size needed a major supermarket.  

“It remains the only town of its size in Victoria which does not have a national supermarket anchor to date,” a spokesperson said. 

The EPA said it was regularly inspecting the site.

A Woolworths spokesperson said the new store, set to open at the end of this year, would provide employment opportunities for Castlemaine residents. 

“There will be around 120 ongoing positions available when our Castlemaine store opens,” the spokesperson said.

Peter Stephens has no concerns about the development near his home. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Castlemaine resident Peter Stephens lives across the road from the building site.

He said with cost of living an issue for many in the region, a new supermarket couldn’t come soon enough.

“I think Castlemaine needs a new supermarket, and it’s very close to us, so we’re happy.”



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