THE CORNER STORE
The recent billion dollar take over of the large, Australian company Coles Myer reminded me of my first encounter with this retail giant when I was a child.
In the 1950s the corner shop was still a viable and important part of community life in my part of North Sydney, New South Wales. I did the weekly, food shopping, not only for my own family, but for a neighbour, Joyce, who had poor health and an elderly, family friend, Mrs Jenner, who lived further down our street. Mrs Jenner’s messages were done after school on Thursday, Joyce’s on Friday. Mrs Jenner always allowed me to buy an ice cream to eat on my way home. My weekly shopping trips for these two ladies were, as my mother often reminded me, our family’s goodwill gesture to neighbours who needed help. Any apparent ownership I may have thought I had over the accomplishment of these tasks was lost in my mother’s rationale.
When I first began doing what became known as ‘the messages’, I used to shop at a little store on the corner of Hipwood and McDougall Streets, opposite Milsons Point Park. The shop shelves were crammed to the ceiling with boxes, tins and other assorted containers. Every bit of usable space was in use and many items were stored out the back. This little mixed business was a family concern, mainly run by the wife. The family actually lived on site. Their lounge room was immediately behind the room that served as the shop, up a couple of stairs. Without any effort, you could clearly see their flickering, black and white television, a distracting novelty for me as my family did not possess a television set.
Coles took over a shop at Milsons Point during this time. By the size of today’s supermarkets, it was very humble, only slightly larger than the corner store where I shopped. There was no self service and you were served in the same manner as the corner store. I had a list and the items were gathered as I read them out. However, the Coles shop prices became very competitive. I soon found myself being instructed to frequent this shop for many of the items I used to buy at the corner store. The fact that I had to drag the shopping trolley well over twice the distance to get to the Coles store was not a consideration. I do remember feeling a sense of guilt at this apparent betrayal of the corner shop but the decisions were not mine to question.
The corner store ran a promotion to encourage patronage, giving sample bags to those customers who spent a certain amount. After scoring a few bags for Joyce and Mrs Jenner, the lady who ran the store kindly presented me with an extra sample bag of my own. But the writing was well and truly on the wall. Coles was there for the long haul. Sentimentality over the falling patronage of small businesses like the corner store was not their concern.
Because the shop assistants in the Coles store were few, I became familiar to them. I was greeted each week as a friend and they knew my list preferences. The manager allowed me to leave my tightly packed shopping trolley against their back wall while I went off and made other purchases around Milsons Point. The butcher, the green grocer and the delicatessen were not then under threat from this growing retail company.
In later years, the corner shop closed and reverted back to a residential address. The Coles store also closed, being replaced with, if my memory serves me correctly, a TAB betting agency.
[ posted on Friday, July 13th, 2007 - © Jim Low ]