Tucked away near Merri Creek, just around the corner from Assemble HQ sits Amalgamated Stone, supplier and manufacturer of all things solid-as-a-rock for over thirty years. Owner Stephen Manakis and his salt-of-the-earth team source their granite, marble, travertine, onyx, slate, bluestone and sandstone from major local and international stone production centres for every scale of project: from wineries to backyards, kitchen benchtops to fancy foyers. Terrazzo and other bedazzling composites are also on offer. On a global and local level, there is increasing pressure on Stephen: to match cheaper and faster competitors; to adapt and innovate as quarries are exhausted; and, to continue to offer the same high level of service and product as Northcote gentrifies and rents rise. Despite the challenges, Amalgamated Stone remain the go-to retailer for architects, builders and homeowners. Dan Aulsebrook stops past the workshop for a chat with Stephen Manakis (and co-worker Lou).
“Back in ‘66/’67, my father-in-law was convinced by an Italian friend to start importing marble. Prior to that, they were doing the concrete. So we started as Amalgamated Labour, and then we became Amalgamated Marble. That carried on for about thirty odd years until my brother and father-in-law parted ways. My brother stole the name, and then I changed it to Amalgamated Stone. But we’re still at the original site where we’ve been dealing in marble and stone since ’67. I’ve got about four or five other blokes in the factory. But they haven’t been here since the start.
We sell basically anything marble, granite, sandstone, bluestone. We’ve gone into ‘recon’ (reconstituted stone) in the last ten years, because unfortunately, we’re exhausting the natural stuff. A lot of stonemasons have sprung up recently because of that reason, ‘recon’ is easier to process, it doesn’t break. You don’t have to polish it. I mainly get my stone from Italy, but I do get some containers through India, the black granites, things like that. Italy’s really the world centre for stone. On quality, it’s hard to compare because each stone is individual, it’s unique in its own properties. But traditionally, a lot of the white or grey white comes from Italy. Because of its density and its hardness and softness in the same sense – it can be carved easily without chipping and breaking. They import blocks there, slice them up to your specifications and send them out here. A lot of the stuff from elsewhere is quite brittle, it’s got formation veins.
What I don’t like in the last ten years or so is that people place undue stress on you because they think two weeks is too long. It’s the timing, really. Any other agency will say six to eight weeks. You say two weeks, and the customer says ‘it’s too long’! Basically yeah, it’s the pressure of getting things done quickly. People want a good job but they want it done quick. You’ve gotta have balance. A lot of people think, ‘oh I’ve gotta have it now’. They don’t understand the process, what it takes to finish, how to do it properly.
The change in price here [Northcote, near Merri creek] – it’s just ridiculous. The rising cost, particularly in this area… what’s happened is that High Street’s become really trendy in the last ten years or so and the prices have gone through the roof, and it’s reflected in the prices of this property. The rates go up and the land tax goes up. It’s driven a lot of people out, it’s gonna drive us out eventually because the costs are too great.
We get here just before 7am, well Lou gets here just before 7. And we leave about 4.30pm, sometimes I stay back to 5.30, 6, just depends. But we work on Saturdays too – 12 to 2.30pm. I come in on Sundays just to do a bit of paperwork and finish things. If you want a bit of history, apparently [John] Batman’s statue is just down the road, the original bluestone base is in the creek now.
My friend used to own a quarry… and in relation to no particular quarry, he said there’s not enough [stone] for another three hundred years. It just depends on production. What’s happening in Italy, there’s actually mining inside caves now, so they leave the exterior.
Who shops here? Everyone and anyone. People off the street, builders. Yeah, if they ask for advice you say look, I’ll give you my advice but it’s up to you. The best part of my job is… getting away from the wife! I enjoy doing it, simple as that”.
To see it for yourself, head to 2A Cunningham Street, Northcote VIC 3070 or visit: www.amalgamatedstone.com.au.
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