Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

History Revisited - Armidale's retail changes

One of the significant changes in the Armidale streetscape over the last sixty years has been the decline in the corner store. They are still there, but their numbers have diminished.20090515-11-12-58-around-armidale--streets-and-architecture

Even sixty years ago, many Armidale households did not have a car. Bus services did exist, but they were infrequent. Some products such as milk, bread or ice were delivered on regular rounds. By then, you could order groceries for home delivery by phone, although store staff still visited to take orders at the back door from regular customers. But for many, a walk to the nearest corner store was still the normal way to buy day to day items.

You can only carry so much in a string bag. For that reason, the stores were quite widely spread, with the greatest concentration in the old city south of the creek.

Then as today, kids had vivid memories of the nearest stores for there you bought lollies or snacks. .You may be surprised at just how often those memories feature at reunions, on Facebook pages or in email exchanges among the tens of thousands of people now living elsewhere whose memory of Armidale was formed in childhood and at school.

In our case, it was Mrs Beatty’s store, now Knights. Midway between our parents and grandparents houses, we visited often.

I remember being sent there with a note from my mother. In return, I received a brown paper package to bring home. It would be years before I worked out that the package contained a sanitary napkin!

The transformation that we would reshape Armidale shopping was already well underway.

While there is debate about the exact genesis of the concept, the idea of the supermarket first emerged in North America with the spread of the automobile.

The concept was a simple one. Instead of customers knowing what they wanted and then ordering from a shop assistant who packed items individually, replace this with a more open store where customers chose and then carried the item to the check-out. This allowed greater variety and was cheaper.

It took some time for the concept to reach Armidale.

In the period after the Second World War, three Armidale businesses (Hanna’s, Richardson’s and Burgess’s) progressively introduced the concept. As they did, the centre of retail gravity shifted.

Initially, the changes were locally driven. Then came the chains.

In Armidale, there were two of what were then called variety stores, Coles and Penneys. They were great for kids with limited budgets looking for cheap Christmas presents for family. They also had toys!

Coles transformed. Expanding rapidly, it bought Penneys among others.

In 1960, G J Coles opened its first Australian supermarket. I haven’t checked my facts here, but my recollection is that Coles first reached Armidale when they took over Richardson’s grocery business. A new era had begun.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 December 2012. The photo is by Gordon Smith. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012(Belshaw's World), 2012 (History Revisited).

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