You've heard of quiet trains, but how about quiet shopping?
This year, Katoomba Woolworths has been the subject of a pilot study called Quiet Hour to gauge the interest in shopping in a more peaceful environment.
The low-sensory hour operates on Tuesdays from 10.30am to 11.30am and is designed to reduce anxiety and sensory stress for customers with specific needs, like autism, by making the store quieter and less stimulating.
Half the lights are turned out, there are no announcements (except in an emergency), no in store radio, the registers and phones are turned down and the oven buzzers are turned off.
Store manager David James said customer feedback had been positive. Those without autism also enjoyed the quieter store, especially "young mums" and staff.
The trial started in Easter. By the end of August it was declared a success with little change in foot traffic or sales.
Autism Spectrum Australia estimates about 350,000 (or 1 in 70) Australians are on the autism spectrum. The Woolies initiative was developed in consultation with disability service providers Life Without Barriers.
Life Without Barriers chief executive Claire Robbs said it was a "fantastic accessibility initiative that recognises people have different accessibility needs"
"It gives people a way to do their shopping and increase their independence in an environment that is not stressful and overwhelming," she said.
Bullaburra mum Grace Kim joined the Gazette for the quiet hour on August 10 and said she would like to see the program expanded into more popular shopping times, such as after school or Thursday nights.
Mrs Kim is the artistic director of Sensory Concerts and has a son with autism but is also "pretty sensitive to noise". She said most people today were suffering with sensory overload.
"We weren't designed to cope with all this stimulus, we haven't evolved fast enough," she said.
Shoppers including Barry Masters of Katoomba said everyone could benefit from the experience.
"Could they extend it to eight hours a day?" he asked.
Other stores in NSW and the ACT also took part in the study. The program will now be rolled out to more than 260 stores nationally.
Katoomba assistant store manager Jacob Thomas said his four-year-old son has autism and he too wants to see the program extended.
Mr Thomas said "retail was so fast paced it was a lovely break for staff".
Woolworths group manager Kym Powell said they had heard from customers there was a need for a "low sensory shopping experience in the area".
"Our team takes great pride in ensuring the store is quieter and less stressful for customers who want to shop during Quiet Hour and we look forward to welcoming them in store."
Leura store is not part of Quiet Hour but Lithgow is.
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