Dick Smith Powerhouse/Nothing – Bankstown, NSW

Welcome to my nightmare.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house that was developing rapidly from a tiny shag-carpeted fibre nightmare into a two-storey McMansion with cheese, the worst thing that could happen to you on a Saturday morning was being told “Get in the car, we’re going to HomeBase.” Suddenly, the Saturday that had held so much promise, that you’d worked all week at school to enjoy, was taken away from you, and replaced by a seemingly endless death march through IKEA.

Prospect’s HomeBase homemaker centre had been around since before 1982, when the IKEA opened. After that, the mindless rush to be a part of the Swedish furniture revolution put HomeBase on the map, and countless kids had their Saturday mornings ruined by the long drive out to the middle of nowhere just because the study would look better with a walnut bookshelf named ASCOT. The HomeBase centre’s other stores (yes, there were a few) surrounded IKEA, occasionally catching the eye of a customer as they left the furniture giant, but as a rule, IKEA was what you were there for. Clark Rubber wasn’t exactly a hot destination on weekends.

For the first few years, it wasn’t so bad. I was short enough to be allowed access to the ball room. Anyone who was a kid in the era of ball rooms will instantly know the thrills, the mayhem and the excitement of a ball room in a shopping centre. It was everywhere you wanted to be, because no matter how boring the prospect of a day traipsing around a shop looking for stuff you didn’t care about seemed, if there were facilities for kids you could instantly dump all your disappointment prep work from your internal cache and get stupid in the ball room.

Tragedy struck the Saturday I was suddenly too tall. The clown on the height restriction sign, my close friend for so many years, granting me private access to a wonderland, was instantly my enemy. His eyes, once alive with mischief at letting me into that private club, had turned cold and distant. “We don’t want you here,” his perma-smile seemed to say.

At this point I was faced with two options: brave the boredom of IKEA, or go to the entertainment room for older kids. It was a tough choice, but one easily made. I still wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate the challenge of a DIY entertainment unit, and as amusing as fake PROP brand computer screens were, they got old after the 1000000th bedroom mockup, so I was off to the big kids room. IKEA’s idea of entertainment for big kids involved a bunch of too-small stools stuffed into a tiny room. In the corner of the room was a mini-TV showing Superman: the Movie on a loop. Every single time I went to this room (and it was often – we had a lot of books to shelve), I was treated to either the Marlon Brando bit at the start, or the farm bit where Superman’s dad dies. Once, I even got to see the bit where Lex Luthor crushes the guy under the train – shockingly violent for a kid my height. Not once did I get to see Superman in action. This did nothing but affirm the film’s reputation as ‘a long one’ for me, because even though I knew how long a trip to IKEA could take, it was never as long as the buildup to Superman’s first appearance in the film. The movie and I have settled our differences since, but to this day I can’t watch it on a tiny TV.

The reason for this long anecdote is this: when it was deemed that our house contained enough IKEA furniture, the drive to Prospect suddenly seemed a bit too long, and further homemaker sorties were redirected to the much more local Christies Centre, on Canterbury Road at Bankstown. Long known as Dunlop Corner to locals (it was formerly the site of a Dunlop factory), the Christies homemaker centre had moved in sometime in the 80s or early 90s, and provided a bunch of lesser IKEA wannabes like Fantastic Furniture, a pottery barn, plenty of bedding shops, and my new enemy: Freedom Furniture. The Christies Centre became a new level of weekend hell, because unlike IKEA there was no kids play centre. No consideration for bored children was given anywhere on the grounds of the Christies Centre, and my attention was left to fall upon the dying, decrepit businesses that lined Canterbury Road.

Matters improved when the pottery barn was replaced by Hungry Jacks, but that can only hold one’s attention for so long. In 1996, Dick Smith Powerhouse made it to the Christies Centre. It was a breath of fresh air – suddenly there was a place that sold video games, computers, CDs, the first DVDs…even Superman: the Movie was available to buy here. Dick Smith had only recently moved away from being an electronic hobby shop to establishing a retail chain for consumer electronics, and the Powerhouse was a bold example. For many, it was the first place they were able to use the internet. The trial computers were all set up with dialup accounts, allowing customers to get a taste of the ‘information superhighway’ for the first time before making a purchase of a brand new Pentium. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how long the furniture pilgrimage was going to take, Dick Smith was the place to hang out and relieve that boredom. It was even better when I eventually had money.

These days, the Christies Centre name is long gone. It’s now Home Focus. Hungry Jacks is still enslaving teenagers, Freedom Furniture is still committing hate crimes against entertainment, bedding shops are still putting people to sleep for all the wrong reasons. There’s a new homemaker centre, Home Central, at the back of the place with a completely separate lineup of shops including a Toys R Us, which I’d’ve killed for on those initial endless Saturday mornings.

Dick Smith is gone. Only recently too, by the look of it. I went there yesterday hoping to buy a fuse, only to find the shop completely gone. When did this happen? I’d only gone there a few…months ago? Was it that long? The Dick Smith Powerhouse branding was apparently discontinued in 2009, immediately numbering the Bankstown store’s days. At the same time, Tandy electronic stores, acquired by Dick Smith, were phased out also. Remember Tandy? Everywhere when you weren’t looking for them, nowhere when you were. In January 2012, Dick Smith owner Woolworths closed 100 or so Dick Smith stores, apparently including the Bankstown Powerhouse, and announced that they were selling the chain. What a bunch of dicks.

So now, bored kids stuck at the Home Focus on an endless Saturday morning have only Hungry Jacks (or the distant Toys R Us) to entertain them. No wonder childhood obesity is such a problem. Of course, these days 4-year-olds have iPhones, so my heart isn’t exactly bleeding for them. It’s just a safe bet they didn’t get their iPhones or Nintendo DS from Dick Smith Powerhouse.

3 responses

  1. Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog and have to stop and say much much i am enjoying it! don’t know if you know about this one but the original ikea was I believe in punchbowl on Canturbury Rd. The building is still there.

  2. I worked here not long after it first opened as a computer tech. It was a great job and I was bludging all day every day and then going across to the hungry Jack’s to eat lunch. I took so many smoke breaks I’m pretty sure I got emphysema from this place. Nobody ever really watched over you so you could get away with anything. The place wasn’t well run, and honestly, nobody cared at all.

    This was the very first dick smith powerhouse opened I think in August 1996. It was Woolworths idea to have an electronics store that sold everything. So they went into TV’s, computers, stereos, car audio and assorted accessories. Basically it was just Harvey Norman with electronics parts but they phased out all the electronics stuff and then it was just another Harvey Norman. There was nothing really special about it and there was no real magic here like there was in the original Dick Smith stores.
    Woolworths totally ran this place into the ground and all the staff that followed the electronics industry closely, could see where things were going seriously wrong and bad choices were being made absolutely everywhere in upper management but we were all powerless to stop or change it.

    I met a nice checkout girl when I worked here that I cared for a LOT, but I had a death in my family, so I had to leave and help look after my folks and with no income I couldn’t pay my bills so my phone was disconnected and I lost her number.
    I’ve always regretted not being able to really get to know her. Sorry Val, that was my fault. But life.. life, why you do this to me?
    Anyway, buying the Tandy stores was a massive mistake. It cost disk smith a fortune and dropped the share price by a huge amount and cheesed off all the investors and the Tandy stores were not doing well at all, so I have no idea why they did that as they really overpaid for underperforming stores. It was brutal and they ended up closing them all anyway which would have happened naturally because the stores were all poorly designed and he prices were sky high!! You went into them and there was never any customers! Yet the fools at dick smith paid a fortune for the entire Tandy brand and stores!!!
    Absolutely crazy! The only time the Tandy stores were viable was in the 80’s before dick smith really took off.
    At the time we all thought there was more to the purchase than was let on, someone from dick smith probably got a lot of money for arranging that purchase because nobody in their right mind would have bought tandy. Radio shack had pretty much cleaned out most of the decent stuff by the time they sold it so you have to wonder…

    1. I’d just like to say, this is all gold, Shane. I appreciate your memories, thanks for sharing.

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