There’s a lot to say about a place like Con’s, pictured here in the midst of a small row of anonymous shops on a street you’ve never heard of, in a suburb cherished by few.
It’s not Con’s anymore – it hasn’t been for many years – but that’s the identity that stuck. Run by an old man and his two sons, the ‘General Store & Deli’ provided basic needs to a growing young suburb. Along the way, we’ll hear from those who knew him best: his loyal customers.
Where to start with a place like Con’s? Do we talk about the price gouging? Corner shops like this tend to jack prices up past the point of no return on investment, but Con, an early pioneer of the $4 price point for a bottle of Coke, turned it into an art.
Red frogs that jumped from 5c each to a whopping 20c within five years. $4 Cokes when the local high school had them for $1.50. Cool, refreshing Calippos priced out of reach on a hot summer’s day. Bread that got more expensive as afternoon turned to evening, when the desperate would stop in on their way home from work.
“He was always so grumpy and keen to get rid of me, buying my seven carob buds for seven cents.”
Or we could talk about the Con’s experience, the service that made the place a local legend.
“I went there almost every day after school, but apart from enabling dietary habits that would not serve me well as an adult nothing really happened there. Con Jr was always a bit of a dickhead, but maybe he just hated kids, which in hindsight is fair enough.”
Taunting schoolkids. Turning away sales of less than $1. Not turning on the Street Fighter machine when asked.
“It was the first place I ever saw the Sub-Zero head rip fatality in Mortal Kombat. Thanks Con.”
Never knowing if it would be Con, or Daddy Con, or Brother Con behind the counter. The loud TV in the corner blaring foreign soap operas at all hours of the day. “Funny” point of sale banter suggesting leaving the change from a $20 for a bottle of milk as a “tip”. Perhaps the joke was on him: there was never much leftover.
“My mum was always really pissed at his prices. Con’s mantra of justification was something like ‘it is what it is'”.
On the other hand, we could talk about how many a desperate family had milk on their cereal because of Con’s, how too many late night Sega marathons were fuelled by Con’s Cheezels and Pepsi. How a chocolate bar after school could brighten a kid’s day, all because Con and co decided to dive into the retail world right here.
“They were pretty generous with the Oddbodz and Tazos back in the day. I’d ride up and buy like two 50c packets of chips, and he’d give me four or five packs of Oddbodz. Good times. I mean, I know the cheaper chips and lollies were offset by the extreme cost of milk and bread, but you’d only buy that from there out of desperation. Yeah, good times.”
We could talk about the early days before Con’s arrival, when the shop was run by “Aussies”, as if Con’s citizenship was somehow invalid because he had an accent. About the strip’s salon wars, when disgruntled hairdressers at the neighbouring Con-owned salon jumped ship and started their own business on the end of the row, beyond the reach of property tycoon Con.
“Once, I had an extreme hunger and ordered a sausage roll from there. Yeah, hot food was had from there once. They sold sausage rolls in that weird deli section. Con took it, chucked it in the microwave and served it up a few minutes later. I remember wondering why hadn’t I done this sooner.”
We could talk about this…except we already have.
We could talk about the no-nonsense appearance of the shop. Many corner shops or mixed businesses are adorned with logos such as Streets Ice Cream or Coca-Cola, tacit admissions that this is an authorised dealer for those conglomerates.
Con, beholden to no one but the almighty dollar, had minimal accoutrements. He was a lone wolf.
Or we could talk about the later years, when everyone had moved away, yet Con remained the constant, unsold lolly teeth laughing in the afternoon light long after school had ended for good.
“I suppose he saw us all grow up, really.”
Or finally, the day when it wasn’t Con, or Daddy Con, or even Brother Con behind the counter, but an Asian couple. The day Con gave up.
That day, Gatorades were $6 a bottle. The new owner’s tribute to Con, I assume, but it just wasn’t the same without him.
Now even the new owners are old, and gone. So ultimately, all that’s really left to talk about is an empty building. Where to start?
Remember when Michael Jordan went from dominating basketball to embarrassing baseball? Today’s subject is a little bit like that, only without the Bugs Bunny team-up to make it palatable (I asked, he’s a busy rabbit). Still sports-related, mind you.
WHOA! Are you into top gear yet? Back in 1994, the clamorous Tony D’Allura was the managing director of Fleets, a sports gear warehouse. At 154 Parramatta Road, Ashfield, D’Allura broadcast this entreaty to those in the market for day-glo boogie boards and flippers…and woe to any piece of cardboard with a dollar value written on it that got in his way.
It was this arresting commercial that gave me pause, first to check my hearing, and second to find out what had happened to that location. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, how long can you last when you’re selling flippers at “unbelievable” prices?
But before we get to the ultimate fate of Fleets, let’s go back a bit further. Even back in its residential days, someone was trying to flog stuff at crazy prices:
Glorious tone and volume, eh? Now, who does that remind you of…
The site’s sportswear days date back to at least 1976, when it was home to Ski-Ace Pty Ltd, owners of the BLACK MAX trademark. I don’t know about you, but the idea of Tony D’Allura screaming about bargain marital aids during The Simpsons back in 1996 appeals, it really does.
In 1978, Ski-Ace became Fleets Sports World, specialising in winter gear, and by 1990, they were a known brand with ONE LOCATION ONLY. As we already know, by 1994 they’d expanded into surfing gear and general sports equipment, and two years later they expanded into Brookvale. As with our old mate Toyworld, country towns followed.
Here’s where things become preposterous…
Fleet Flyers was a small courier company founded in Sydney in 1921. 40 years later, it was bought out by Australian National Couriers, which is still active today.
In 2000, Fleets Sports World vacated the Ashfield location, and was replaced by Canova Interiors. Ok, I hear you say, who cares?
Well, Fleets Flyers began to use that same address, and apparently adopted the extra ‘s’ along the way. Neither the mostly defunct Fleets website or the still-active ANC site (which the Fleets site redirects to) mention Fleets Sports World in their history or about pages, nor do they mention any sporting history whatsoever.
So what happened? Did they move in simply because the name was already on the sign? Unless Tony D’Allura resurfaces to tell us the story via podcasts Cheez TV-style, we may never know.
What we do know is that neither Fleet, Fleets, ANC, or even Canova Interiors operate outta Ashfield anymore:
The old Fleets, along with Brescia Furniture and some other relics have been razed to make way for WestConnex. The sun has set on Parramatta Road’s commercial viability. No longer can you plan a day of shopping for soccer balls, leather lounges or ribs along this soon-to-be-habitrail, and frankly it boggles the mind that it was ever possible.
But should an ANC driver ever feel a chill as they pass this stretch of the motorway in years to come, well, now we’ll know why.
And don’t mourn for Fleets – against all odds they’re kicking on in regional NSW, where it’s appropriate to appear in your own ads. Have a look if you don’t believe me:
Dry your eyes.
Special shoutout to my homie Flemishdog for uploading these and many other old ads. Love your work, Mr Marshall.
It looks like any other drab line of shops on a dreary corner in Dullsville.
So what’s the reason for our focus on this windswept Belmore street corner on such an unseasonably brisk evening?
I thought you’d never ask.
The Corner Grill Cafe has failed. The grill is dormant, the shakes are neither shaken nor stirred, and the chips remain a mere gleam in a spud’s eye. Don’t believe the signs; they’re open zero days, and there’s no home to deliver.
This location has long served up junk food to the masses – just look at the ghost sign on the building’s south:
And in that earlier time, the corner shop backed onto some kind of mechanic. It’s now an IT consultant, but the evidence is there:
Despite that, it’s nothing special. Just another small business caught in the thresher of the conglomerates that absorb everything we rely on. The blood has dried, and the scene of the crime is now available on a twelve month lease.
What caught my eye, however, was this.
This is what elevates the Corner Grill Cafe – and indeed, the whole block of shops – to being worthy of a handful of words on the internet. Someone cared.
Whoever it was that founded the Corner Grill, that did their research, signed the lease, had the signs made, ordered the milkshake powder and on whose orders thousands of coffee beans were ground to death, that person believed in their idea, as wholly unoriginal as it was, and they gave a gift to an audience they thought they knew.
They believed that this corner of Belmore needed the Corner Grill Cafe, and only in the way they could provide it. They believed that it would fly, that the air would benefit from the smell of juicy, flame-grilled burgers instead of cigarette smoke and desperate living.
They believed that the arcade games that used to make the adjacent corner shop (and countless others like it) sing still had a place, however abstract, on Yangoora Street. They believed that the community had a place for their dream, and they commissioned this artwork to prove it.
That they were wrong doesn’t matter. They left their mark, and these days, that’s enough.
What’s in a name? The name Cronulla inspires certain imagery: beaches, beer and brawls. With its vibrant social life and strong sense of community, Bondi’s brother from another planet provides the kind of rough-around-the-edges seaside fun that’s expected of Australia, just with less backpackers.
Which is strange, because there’s never been a shortage of places to stay and get tanked. If you weren’t a local (in which case, what were you doing there?), you were spoiled for thirst-quenching options after your day in the sun, and one such option was the Hotel Cecil.
Tell me this now: what kind of names do you associate with Cronulla? Mark, Kai, Tyler…Cecil? Has anyone named Cecil ever set thonged foot into the Shire, let alone Cronulla Beach?
The answer is yes. In 1927, Cecil J. Munro was the president of the local shire, and owned a block of flats by the beach. Needless to say, when you’re the president your ego can run a little wild. Don’t ask why his name is spelled Monro in the pics and not in the history…as we all know, when people get rich they lose their minds.
Munro/Monro converted his block of flats into the Hotel Cecil. By the end of the year, the 70-bedroom bungalow-style hotel was ready for action.
Holiday-makers and locals alike enjoyed the opportunity to cecil down so close to the beach (You’re fired – Ed), but a problem soon became apparent: where were the balls?
Never one to miss an opportunity to stroke that ego, Cecil had a ballroom and cafe built beside the Hotel Cecil, right on the beach.
Today, cafes strive to be as tiny as possible, so as to maximise the saturation of lattes throughout the land. Take a look at this, and revel in the decadence of another era:
For decades to come, the Hotel Cecil played host to debauched nights, hungover mornings, sandy feet padding across ratty carpets and vinyl flooring, and of course tall, cool schooners of Tooths.
That’s right – Tooths. The brewer purchased Hotel Cecil in 1936, and funded an expansion in 1940 that doubled the Cecil’s size.
By then, Munro/Monro was long out of the picture, but his enterprising spirit had ensured Cronulla was branded with all of his names. Just two streets away from Hotel Cecil is Monro Park.
All it takes to solidify an identity is a dip of the toes into the pool of popular culture, and for Cronulla, that process of galvanization happened in 1979, with the release of the novel Puberty Blues.
The novel, by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, depicted the suburb’s surf culture through the eyes of two teenage girls. It instantly struck a nerve, and acted as a kind of rite-of-passage for teenagers all over Australia – such was the broad appeal of the tenets of Cronulla.
A film version followed in 1981 to great success, cementing the sights and sounds of 2230 for all time. That image has persisted in the decades since, and will likely persist until the world ends, but Cronulla seems quite happy with that.
That said, the Cronulla of Puberty Blues doesn’t quite resemble the Cronulla of today. Like many of its residents, the suburb has undergone facelift after facelift, and certain corners are almost unrecognizable.
Like the Hotel Cecil, for example. It was neutered in the late 1950s, when the ballroom was demolished, and at some point along the way it swapped the words of its name around to suit the wider transition from hotels to pubs.
But the hotel didn’t completely close until 1988, when licensee (and Cecil’s descendant) Shane Munro (that’s more like it) sold it to a property developer. By then, Tooths was long out of the picture…but that’s another story.
Demolition began in the early 90s, and I think you know where this story is going.
I can’t help but think the final night of the original Cecil would have been a wild one. A balmy March evening when hundreds of people, each of whom had forged personal relationships with the hotel over the years, raised their Tooths (or equivalent) one last time. By the end it was, along with Joe’s Milk Bar and the Cronulla Workers Club, one of Cronulla’s landmarks.
Today, it’s that old, bland story so often told in the pages of Past/Lives…
Yes, it’s another one of those “Let’s give it the same name was what was once there to try to capture some of the spirit and let the legend live on” situations, but you’re not fooling anybody. It’s a completely different, impersonal building, and the only drinking going on here is when rich loveless marrieds drink alone.
But what’s in a name? Around the back, in the oddly named Ozone Street, is the sweet spot: the original facade incorporated into the new Cecil.
I know this sort of thing is always meant to be a respectful tip of the tam-o-shanter to the original, but look at the imagery.
Suspensions of disbelief get a thorough workout these days. Whether you can’t believe there are Superman movies that don’t star Christopher Reeve, or you refuse to believe it when NRL stars run afoul of the law, you’re likely having a tough time of it in this, the dawn of the information age.
For a long time, I refused to believe that one area, nay, one stretch of road could support not one but two doll hospitals. So when the Doll Repair Centre at 444 Stoney Creek Road, Kingsgrove ceased to exist a few months ago, that suspension vanished, the disbelief came crashing down, and here you are reading my attempt to process a lifetime of astonishment and uncertainty.
In simpler times, kids played with toys. ‘member toys? Action figures, Matchbox cars, those lame wooden ones that barely moved…and dolls. Back then, dolls were seen as a “girls toy”, and the levels of attachment the little girls of the past had for their dolls was in the minds of many a by-product of “maternal instincts”.
I speak from experience when I say this: when an action figure broke, it went in the bin. Too bad, so sad. “Boys toys” were expected to take damage through rough play. A broken doll, on the other hand – be it a loose seam, a torn dress, or a missing head – was a tragedy, and required immediate repair.
And so it was in 1913, when a Mr Harold Chapman of Campsie established Sydney’s first doll hospital. The demand was there, and carried the business through to the late 1930s, when Chapman’s son Harold Jr moved the Doll Hospital to Her Majesty’s Arcade in the city. If you had a shop in the city at this point in time, you’d made it.
Her Majesty’s Arcade had a problem, however – it occupied a most plum piece of real estate on Pitt Street, and in 1968 plans arose that sent all tenants packing. The Doll Hospital ended up here, near the corner of Stoney Creek and Forest roads in Bexley.
The arcade was demolished, and by 1981 Sydney’s favourite 309m-tall resident stood in Her Majesty’s wake.
But back to the Doll Hospital, as it stands today.
Unlike most hospitals, patients line the windows, exposing their medical issues to the world.
Sorry, but dolls are creepy. Maybe that’s why this is going up on Halloween. There’s something about those glassy eyes and pre-sculpted faces that rub me the wrong way. The public’s tastes have also skewed away from traditional dolls in recent years, and toward licenced merchandise instead.
There’s no better way to brag about your mad surgeon skills than by showing off no less than three fully intact Humpty Dumptys, the most frail of all toys.
Handbags and umbrellas need love too, so they’re also welcome here. They don’t repair signs, I’m guessing?
That’s a double no, then. Honestly, I was surprised to find it’s still in operation. Imagine my shock when I saw this sign:
That’s right – if your doll’s blue in the face and unresponsive at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re shit out of luck.
Or are you?
Carmo’s got your back after hours, but I bet it ain’t cheap. Even with this safety net, don’t let your doll go for a big night in Newtown anytime soon.
The Doll Hospital wears its heritage proudly via its suit of signage armour. It’s still in the Chapman family: Harold Jr’s son Geoff runs the joint these days, and has a full team of dolly doctors on his staff. Though not everyone is a fan. Check out this “nit-picking whinger”:
Ignore the ominous green building and check out the sign on the western side of the doll hospital. It hides the identity of the building’s previous owner, but only just. If it ever comes down for an update (perhaps at the 180 years of service mark), we might get a look at that piece of blue and yellow history. But not today.
The building is old – “olde”, in fact – and in one place seems to literally be held together by a plank of wood. The signs boast that the Doll Hospital’s provided “Over 80 Years of Service”, but the sign above the awning says it’s “Over 100 years”. Get your story straight, guys.
The sign also makes the curious, almost defensive claim of being the “original” doll hospital. Is that to suggest there was at one time a pretender? An upstart that wished to usurp the Doll Hospital’s monopoly? A firebrand so ballsy that it would take up residence in the Chapmans’ own backyard?
The incredible answer is yes. This may be the “the Olde Doll Shoppe” of Sydney, and you should go and check it out. But imagine just for a moment, there was a doll shoppe that looked even olde-er…
Yep. This is where I’m gonna go when I need something repaired.
It’s hard to read as the sign has cracked and rusted from years exposed to the elements, but once, this was the other doll hosp- uh, I mean doll repair centre.
Until recently, that is. Now it’s anyone’s, so if you want to challenge the might of the Famous Original Olde Doll Hospital, here’s your chance. You can’t do any worse than the last one…
From what I could discover, rash daredevils Peter and Mary threw caution to the wind a few decades back and tried to democratise doll rehabilitation.
“We repair, we care” says the card, bold in its implication. It’s not hard to imagine a time when raw, violent rivalry spanned the gap between the two surgeries, and I believe that may have bubbled over in 1992:
They couldn’t even bear to follow on from each other in the dot points! That the Doll Hospital placed a full three spots above the Doll Repair Centre tells you everything you need to know about the hierarchy.
Ultimately, Peter and Mary couldn’t hack the cutthroat world of doll repairing. The state of this shopfront was a sorry sight in the last few years; a battered old pram stood outside, attracting the wrong kind of attention. It was far from the lush doll dioramas of the Doll Hospital.
A look inside gives nothing away. They had a cupboard.
The signage above suggests this corner belonged to someone in a time before the divine feud. I can’t make out what it says, so if you know (or it was your corner), get in touch.
Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied by my as-exhaustive-as-I-was-bothered research, so, fascinated by the mysterious Doll Repair Centre, I went deeper. I found an old website, long since defunct. But thanks to our friends at the Wayback Machine, I was able to jump back in time. I had no idea what lay in wait.
What I found left me scandalised. Check out the layout of the Doll Repair Centre’s website.
Maybe it’ll seem familiar to you.
And maybe you’ll recall that old saying about staring into the abyss for too long.
So…any web designers in the house?