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After 23 years of seven days a week, time for Rico to take a break. Farewell to Orange's Red Spot

March 13, 2023

By Peter Holmes

For 23 years Rico Lung has worked seven days a week at his Red Spot Homeware & Giftware emporium in the heart of the CBD on Summer Street.

Now, the end of the retail road is near.

A former computer salesman for Acer in Taiwan, Lung came to Orange in the late 1990s and in 2000 opened his shop.

Lung wasn’t the first operator of a discount store - widely known as $2 shops for the fact much of the produce is priced very cheaply - in Orange.

He recalls one called Pricebusters, a few doors along. It came and went, but over the years more have entered the market, making it incrementally tougher for Lung to make a decent profit.

The competition includes discount shops on Summer Street and in the Summer Centre. Both contain a greater variety than Red Spot, which operates at the discount end of the discount spectrum.

Lung’s store, which is slated to close in April, is an Aladdin’s Cave of inexpensive tat - mostly produced in China.

Stickers, cards, sunglasses, socks, tools, kitchen implements, stationary, plastic flowers, fidget spinners. On and on it goes, up and down the aisles, the products filling every available square foot of space.

Its distinct fragrance - discount candles blended with incense and boxes of plastic items wrapped in plastic - is familiar to anyone who’s been in a $2 shop.

But it's too much for one man. The competition - from the discount stores and Kmart - is too fierce, and Lung just doesn't have the petrol in the tank anymore.

Rico Lung's Red Spot. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Lung’s rent is about $75,000 a year. The weeks are long. He has no staff, and runs a store with so many nooks and crannies that those who don't want to pay can probably get away with it.

“Twenty-three years is too long for one job,” Lung said. “Seven days a week, by myself. I need a change to find another new lifestyle.”

Lung came to Australia from his birthplace of Taiwan in 1997 following the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996.

The Washington Post reported that on March 7, 1996, “three Chinese M-9 ballistic missiles … were rapid-fired from China ... toward Taiwan. They splashed down in the shipping lanes adjacent to Taiwan's two principal seaports: first Kaohsiung in the south, then Chilung in the north, then south again to Kaohsiung.”

The US responded by informing China there would be "grave consequences" if any of those weapons struck Taiwan.

“Fortunately, I came to Australia in 1997,” Lung said.

Rico Lung at his Red Spot Homeware & Giftware emporium. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

He said the current military tension between China and Taiwan reminded him of the situation he fled 26 years ago.

“How much I long in my heart for world peace and human beings to live on an equal footing.”

At a church in Orange, which he still attends, Lung was taught by parishioners to speak English. He goes to English and Chinese-language services.

After he closes his shop for the final time, Lung hopes to visit Taiwan to see his elderly mother - who is recovering from a recent bout of Covid - and three younger brothers.

His daughter is a lawyer in Sydney, but Lung said Sydney is too busy for him. He likes the quieter life in Orange, and plans to embark on a new career when he returns from his sojourn in Asia.

He beams and laughs when I ask what he might do. Who knows? Let’s wait and see.

I tell him a story. A few years ago I was looking for a plastic slotted spoon, and wandered into Red Spot. The kitchen tools were in the back right corner of the shop, and after a few minutes of ferreting about unsuccessfully, I went to see the man at the front desk.

I explained what I was looking for. Lung strode with purpose toward the kitchen area. After scanning the shelves, and lifting piles of tongs and peelers and whisks to see what was underneath, Lung had gotten down on all fours and started rummaging around in a box under the shelving.

After a few moments, a victorious hand had emerged clutching a plastic slotted spoon.

Lung finds this tale most amusing.

I ask what - among all this stuff - are his favourite items.

He walks me to the displays of cards. In an era of fancy $8, $9, $10 cards that play songs and have various design bells and whistles, the $2 shop cards - which are often only $1 - are a godsend to those who refuse to play Hallmark’s games.

The plastic flowers facing Summer Street. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

There is another favourite thing. Lung swivels around to show me the colourful displays of plastic flowers. The moneyed classes might see them as tacky, and perhaps they are. But for many of Lung’s customers, they were very special.

“The old ladies, they buy these and take them to the cemetery,” Lung said.

He stops and his eyes redden. He holds a finger up to indicate that he needs a moment; the beautiful memories have brought him to tears.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

We move between displays of cards so he can collect himself out of view of the customers.

“You see,” he said. “The old ladies come in, and when they don’t come in anymore after a while, I know they have passed.”

Lung said he wanted to offer his “heartfelt thanks for the support of so many local friends and church brothers and sisters over the past 23 years”.

The shop’s closing down sale will continue into April.

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Peter Holmes



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