At the time of this interview Australia was in the middle of a pandemic with laws forcing retailers to operate under reduced hours and following very strict guidelines. We decided to do a Five For Five style interview and put the spotlight on the Graffiti shops in Australia who take a huge risk and put in the big hours and massive effort for our small community of writers to have access to quality paint, vinyl and everything hip hop related. First up is Union Heights in Melbourne who have been a massive supporter of BSP for the last couple of years.
1. So first of all, Where did it all start & what year did Union Heights open?
I’ve been into Graff and hip hop culture since I was a teen, always into painting, DJing documenting the scene and making beats. Throughout the 90s I worked as a Youth Worker, and was able to push my creative interests through running graffiti workshops, organising legal art projects, music events etc. Then in early 2000s I moved to Melbourne to try something different and ended up landing a casual job at Obese Records then became store manager, after ten years it was time to move on. The concept had been in the works for a number of years, so I started a business plan, doing research, all the boring yet essential elements to make things work. After securing a location and after a few renovation delays we finally opened in December 2015.
2. Are you mainly focussed on selling paint or do you specialise in other products too?
Yes, we focus mainly on selling paint, art supplies We stock Ironlak, Sugar and Montana Cans – Gold, Black and White line with over 600 colours in stock we supply Melbourne with the largest range of paint. In addition to this we stock a solid range of hip hop vinyl and apparel with a strong focus on supporting local brands such as Burn Crew, BSP and Klearcut. We also have an “exhibition” space where again we support local artists to exhibit their work. Everything we support/sell comes from within the independent hip hop and graffiti art scene. We’re Melbourne’s destination for all things hip hop!
3. Melbourne is without a doubt the graffiti capital of Australia, do you think more people are painting these days compared to 10 years ago?
No doubt! Melbourne has been leading the way alongside many key players and crews throughout Australia that pioneered styles and influenced many. The letterform is the fundamental element and there are noticeably more people painting graffiti on all fronts. Graffiti writers have pushed boundaries illegally (and legally), to build a culture which in turn has made the artform accessible to a much wider audience creating an industry and scene driven by artists and interested entrepreneurs.
4. Graffiti can get some bad press and often the local graff store can cop a bit of heat, have you had any unexpected visits or problems from the media or the authorities?
When we first opened, we had a few concerned local residents come in and voice their opinion on the “graffiti problem” in the area basically blaming us for everything going down in the area. It gave us an opportunity to have a conversation and break down some misconceptions around graffiti. Sometimes it worked most times it didn’t. As for unexpected visits, we’ve spotted a few undercover visitors come through to do their product research.
5. Can you share a story of something unusual, crazy or funny that's happened in your shop?
Where do we start! One day just before lunch time I was replying to emails when I look up to see a cop dressed in black tactical uniform with the vest on etc comes running into the shop right at me. I was like, oh shit, WTF have I done now and was preparing myself for the worst. He stops at the counter, asks: “Do you sell skinny caps?” Bloody hell, ya what now? Turns out he was in a hurry and needed to get some caps for his wife to paint a mural at a school.
6. We're living in some crazy times right now and as a store owner I'm sure you have been hugely affected. What changes have you had to make to keep the doors open and continue to service the graffiti community?
Yeah, this pandemic has presented us with some challenges. We’re focusing on the online store, offering free shipping on sales over $100 etc. We’re back trading within Stage 3 restrictions, so limited days/hours and limiting the number of people in the shop at the one time.
7. What can people do to support you during these uncertain times?
Jump online, order some art supplies, vinyl or apparel or if you’re in the area check our social media for our opening hours.