I wrote this post back in 2014, probably for a writing challenge. I thought that I would rewrite and post it again for those of you who hadn’t seen it the first time. I had about a dozen views a week back then so I reckon that would be most of you. 🙂
Does anyone else but me miss department stores? I mean department stores the way they used to be? Most of the ones I visit today seem to be watered down versions of the stores I grew up with.
In the suburbs of Adelaide where I spent most of my life each major suburban shopping centre had one or two department stores. Rundle Street, later Rundle Mall in the city was where “the big shops” were.
I used to love to visit the shops in Adelaide as a child, teen and later as an adult. First stop would be the Myer store where we would shop in the Bargain Basement for clothing and household items that had been marked down. The rest of the store was more upmarket but not so much that you felt you couldn’t afford to shop there. As I grew older I enjoyed browsing in their homewares department. Naomi used to buy clothes from the Miss Shop and visit the trendy hairdresser on the first floor often coming home with different coloured hair. Myers had a large ladies rest room which, as well as the toilet facilities, had armchairs where a tired shopper could rest her feet for a while. There was also another hairdressers which I occasionally visited and a cafeteria. You could spend most of your day shopping there without really needing to go anywhere else.
David Jones was the next store on that side of the street. It had a reputation for being upmarket and expensive although in fact I don’t think things did cost a lot more there. It had marble floor tiles and a grand piano on the ground floor. David Jones liked to advertise that “We don’t have sales. We have clearances.”. Two a year, in January and July. They made it sound as if they were doing the public a big favour by having them at all. It was the store where ladies went to buy their hats for Melbourne Cup luncheons and so on. David Jones also had the first gourmet food hall in Adelaide down in the basement. You could buy imported goods there, delicatessen items, coffee, chocolate and even wine. None of the other stores had a liquor licence so that was very unusual when I was young. At least in Adelaide it was. My favourite thing in the basement was the cookie machine which sent out such delicious smells. I didn’t often visit David Jones but if I did I usually took home a bag of those cookies.
A little further up the street on the same side was John Martin’s. “Proudly South Australian” they proclaimed. “Johnnies” was comfortable and familiar and of course it was also “The Pageant Store”.
I bought a lot of clothes there, the dress I got married in came from Johnnies. Later on, after David and I got engaged I bought Manchester and household goods. It seemed you could buy anything there. I still have a picture that David and I bought at John Martins with money we were given as a wedding present. In the 1990s I carefully selected a new refrigerator from the white goods department and put it on layby. I used to go and look at it after work nearly every week until I had paid it off. It was a good fridge, we had it for years. It was also in John Martins that I first saw computers running Windows and decided that they might not be so hard to use after all.
Once I’d done what I had to do I liked to just browse around the store. After Sunday shopping began in Adelaide Naomi and I would sometimes meet for a day of shopping and browsing in the city. We would always begin with an early lunch in John Martin’s Buttery on the third floor. That was a very large cafeteria where you could get a cooked meal or sandwiches, or just a cake and a cuppa. It had windows looking out onto North Terrace. John Martins had a great rest room for ladies too. It had a small lounge area, public phones and a row of desks where you could sit and tidy your hair, fix your make up or write. If it were still there today I expect it would have free Wi Fi.
The toy department was my favourite place in Johnnies, even as an adult it was part of my pre-Christmas ritual to go and look in on Santa’s Magic Cave and my mum and I would nearly always visit the toy department to look at the dolls if we were in town together. We also loved the china department and would go to admire the Royal Doulton figurines in glass display cabinets there. I also liked the book and music departments which were for a time located on a mezzanine floor between ground and first.
After Rundle Street was converted to a mall in 1976 the various sculptures were installed. Of all of these the largest was “The Spheres” by Bert Flugelman, or as they are fondly known by almost everyone, “The Mall’s Balls”. Located in front of John Martin’s they became a popular meeting spot.
Across the road were two other department stores, Cox Foys and Harris Scarfe. Cox Foys main attraction when I was a child was that it was the tallest building in the street and on the top floor it had a large cafeteria with big windows. When I was thirteen and considered old enough to go to the city without an adult I would get a train to Adelaide on Saturday mornings or in the school holidays to look at the shops and go to the museum. A ham sandwich and a fizzy drink in Cox Foys cafeteria was my usual lunch. I enjoyed the view of Adelaide through the windows before visiting the adjacent toy department. Even better from a child’s point of view was that on the rooftop there was a fun fair. It wasn’t the rides that interested me so much as the view though. I liked looking down at all the buildings in Rundle Street and across the suburbs to pick out various landmarks. I think this building was only 6 to 8 storeys high but Adelaide was a low-rise city then so I still had a good view.
Harris Scarfe was in an old building with a beautiful façade but the inside always seemed to be a muddle. There was lots of merchandise and it was all on display. They even had pets for sale in the basement for a time. It was a difficult store to navigate round as the aisles were narrow and it had stair cases in odd places. The air conditioning didn’t seem to work as well as in the other stores. I didn’t go in there often but if you had the patience for the clutter it was a very good store.
There were also arcades, Adelaide Arcade was a favourite. It had a record shop that David and I liked to visit and it had the Dolls Hospital located inside a shop that also sold knives and umbrellas. The arcade has been renovated and there is an interesting display upstairs but most of the former stores could no longer afford the rent after that.
Regent Arcade had two cinemas, The Regent and I think the other one was The Paris. There was a Swiss Restaurant there and various other small stores. We used to go to the pictures there sometimes. There was another smaller arcade at the back of the old David Jones store that also had a cinema.
There were other department stores in the city too, Miller Anderson’s in Hindley Street and Moore’s in Victoria Square being the main ones but Rundle Street was the shopping street.
Most of those stores are gone now. Cox Foys was bought by Harris Scarfe and eventually closed down although Toys’R’Us occupied a couple of floors for many years.
David Jones bought out and eventually closed down John Martins which I’ve never forgiven them for. Every time I hear their “There is no other store like David Jones” jingle I think “Well you made sure of that didn’t you?” The John Martins building was demolished and David Jones built a new store on the site which was nowhere near as nice as their old one.
Myers built a new store too on the site of their old one but both of these stores are smaller with boutique stores occupying much of the space. I quite liked the Myer Centre interior but I was disappointed in the new Myer store itself. Last time I was there most of the shops in the upper floors of the Myer Centre were empty. Dazzleland, the fun fair they had built on the top floor had long since been closed down.
Harris Scarfe is doing the same thing; having demolished their old building they are replacing it with some sort of shopping centre. I thought they would just gut the inside of the building and keep the façade but no, they knocked it down. Last time I was in Adelaide the new store was still being built and Harris Scarfe was temporarily located in part of the old David Jones building. I’m not hopeful that I’ll like the new store. (I didn’t)
Miller Anderson’s site now houses a hotel or apartments and Moores is now the Law Courts.
This seems to be a trend, not only in Adelaide but other Australian cities too. In Melbourne Buckley’s & Nunn is gone and Sydney’s Grace Brothers is no more. There are still a few Dimmey’s stores around but the store with the iconic yellow clock tower in Melbourne’s Richmond has been redeveloped as “heritage lofts and mixed retail”. Somehow it’s taken the fun out of shopping.