Regional relocations come with no shortage of decision-making doozies. The first is weighing up whether to go at all. Next comes nailing exactly where to set up basecamp. Geelong’s Pivotonian Cinema operators are veterans of both the coastal/country living thing, and the inner urban Geelong thing. Jessica Litsas and Mark Walker learnt the pros and cons of each, along with what works for them while running a demanding small business. First came their pop-up indie cinema trial in Geelong West. Then they settled on longer term digs in South Geelong earlier this year. Here’s all the wisdom they can share with folks weighing up which way to go in a Geelong, Bellarine or Surf Coast relocation adventure! Plus, some bonus tips on settling in as newbies when you have a brand spankin’ business venture to boot.
Starting the coast and country adventure
The hero’s of our story, Jessica and Mark didn’t just add ‘entrepreneurs’ to their CV in 2015. They also gave seaside country living a go, resting their weary heads late each night in sleepy Portarlington.
When the two began toying with the idea of starting up an independent cinema somewhere in regional Victoria, access to accommodation in Portarlington went a long way to sealing the deal for the Geelong. It was also a rare opportunity to try out rural living before committing longer term.
“Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Portarlington and Mark has some family in Geelong. So that familiarity was appealing,” says Jessica.
Country air, supplies of fresh eggs and fantastic seafood are great perks the duo value highly. Regular encounters with Clydesdale horses and Alpacas, as well as having a fruit and vegie garden also rate for Jessica. “It’s peaceful, quiet and we were across the road from the beach,” says Jessica, who adds that returning from work for an evening swim is definitely a major plus.
On a trip to Melbourne, Jessica was surprised to find she had so completely adjusted to country life, she couldn’t sleep from the noise. This was despite bunking down in the relative calm of Ripponlea, not Melbourne’s CBD. But Mark and Jessica also feel there are serious downsides to consider before making a rural relocation.
Public transport- do you need access?
“It’s a very sweet place and there’s many things we love about Portarlington, but starting a new business is all consuming, requiring long hours. So the 45 minute journey to and from work each day can be challenging for your schedule,” says Jessica. They found local phone reception to be pretty lousy in their house, but the Internet connection was OK.
“Mark and I have had the hobby farm fantasy for quite a while now, but through this ‘trial’ we realise we’re not quite there yet. We’d want to have more time to enjoy rural life than we have at this stage when we’re so busy with work,” says Jessica.
“We’ve always lived in inner-city suburbs of Melbourne, and we really took the fact you never need to drive anywhere for granted. It’s been very different having total dependency on a car in Portarlington. The bus service is not an option for us, people definitely need to need to consider the limitations of public transport in regional locations,” Jessica warns.
Put yourself out there
The two are attuned to avoiding the pitfalls of loneliness when moving to a new place, when friendships require careful cultivation. “We try getting out together alone in a non-work related way once a month,” says Jessica. This takes precision planning for a seven-day-a-week business, with the two using their time to explore Geelong and support other businesses making it go of it.
“We want to find cool places – we don’t want to be isolated. We make an effort to meet like-minded people who are sometimes fighting a battle to get Geelong happening,” says Jessica. “There’s not an emphasis on the arts in Geelong, despite the process of gentrification underway” adds Mark. Through their efforts to get-amongst-it, Jessica and Mark have established a nurturing network of startups who support each other any way they can.
Establish your local presence
Through their pop-up cinema trial in Geelong West, Jessica and Mark felt the Pivotonian Cinema faced similar challenges to Avalon Airport, who cite local flyers bypassing them for Tullamarine.
“We definitely have to assert ourselves to change local behaviour says Mark. We know that there are plenty of Sun and Nova cinema-goers in Geelong and across the broader region,” he adds.
It was perhaps these same cinephiles who came through with the goods during the Pivotonian Cinema’s crowd funding campaign. The winter 2015 campaign saw around 300 individual supporters rack up a final tally just shy of $32K. The target was $30K. So with that, Mark and Jessica were off and running to bed down a more permanent Geelong home for the Pivotonian Cinema.
At this point, Enterprise Geelong’s Terry Hickey lent support by identifying a range of new potential premises for Mark and Jess. “They’re amazing – such a great organisation for people looking to start a business locally,” confirms Jessica.
The upside of inner urban living
With a permanent cinema home yet to be finalised, Jessica spotted a dream rental in South Geelong and took the plunge. “I just had to have the house,” Jessica confesses. “On top of that, it’s two blocks from the station so it’s only an hour to Melbourne. It’s easy to go to dinner, meet friends and go for drinks in town. It’s central to everything and we take the dog to Richmond Park. South Geelong is also close to Belmont, where I’m enjoying the Asian grocers too.”
Serendipitously, the couple found themselves signing an offer to lease the South Geelong Pivotonian Cinema premises just weeks later. So their daily commute to work is now a five-minute stroll. “It’s definitely a more urban experience for us now, but the beach and countryside are easy to get to when we want it,” notes Jessica.
This convenience was invaluable during the intensive cinema build process, making it easy to meet tradies at all hours of the day.
Geelong says hell yes to indie cinema
Since opening their warm and sexy cinema in May, the Pivotonian is developing a solid following with plenty of sell-out sessions and an absolutely “mental” June long weekend. Given the level of community investment already committed to the venture, the warm local reception is hardly surprising.
For now, it’s about perfecting the Pivotonian experience, and introducing more first-timers to the cinema. Offering delicious snacks and luscious vino from Union St Wine while you watch, the Pivotonian Cinema offers a sublime date night for those needing time out.
Mark and Jessica are creating a new community asset that Geelong is clearly taking to its heart. Good on them. Good on us. Wanna catch a flick? Check out session times and buy tickets. Need something for a special someone? Buy a gift voucher in person at the Pivotonian Cinema, cnr Moorabool and Verner St South Geelong.
Jessica’s South Geelong Loves:
- Kilgour St Grocer and Café, South Geelong
- Parks, access to the river and bike paths
- Mitre Ten. Very handy for the cinema build and for passata making day at home stuff, PLUS it has a post office – super handy for work!
- The CWA in Carr St. Central night is for younger ladies (check out the Facebook page if you want to suss it out). The 4th Wednesday is the activities meeting which might include yoga, sponge making, preserving, and building terrariums.
- Chas Cole Cellarbrations – they have the best selection of boutique beers.