Gerry Harvey and his Harvey Norman retail empire may still be prominent and sometimes newsworthy today, but spare a thought for Norman Ross. In 1961 Harvey and his business partner Ian Norman opened their first electrical store here at Arncliffe, calling it Harvey Norman Discounts. After its success, the two decided to start a chain but couldn’t agree on a name, so they picked the name of the store’s manager, and in 1962 the first Norman Ross store opened. In 1965, this Arncliffe store’s name was changed to Norman Ross. This site saw its share of controversy in 1978, when the ever-provocative Harvey broke the hymen of Australian retail innocence and defied a NSW Government ban on after hours trading. The store remained open long after the midday closing time required by law. Shoppers poured in to the five-level store, drawn like moths to the flame of novelty and controversy, as if they couldn’t have bought that toaster a few hours earlier. Harvey risked jail time and heavy fines with the move, but it seemed to pay off.
Norman Ross was doing pretty well by 1982, when both the Coles Group and Alan Bond, the man who was allergic to money, decided they wanted a piece of the action. Coles won out after a fierce bidding war, but Bond bought the chain from Coles just three weeks later. Both Harvey and Norman were instantly sacked, but then immediately started the Harvey Norman discount chain, which flourished while Norman Ross struggled in its Bondage. Bond being Bond, the writing was on the wall for Norman Ross as soon as he took over, and it went into liquidation in 1992. In what could be seen as a patronising move, Harvey has resurrected the Norman Ross name for his stores in New Zealand. Let’s take a moment to process that – he didn’t want to attach his own name to anything over there, and would rather use the soiled, besmirched name of a failed Australian retail operation from two decades ago to sell fridges and Dells. You’d think Bond was still in charge.
But while Gerry Harvey whines to anyone who’ll listen about the unfairness of online trading, the store that he built his empire on still sits on the Princes Highway, and it’s here that for Norman Ross, the writing is still on the wall. After the chain was wound up, the store became a Hardly Normal outlet for a time, but for the last few years it’s housed a variety of fly-by-night furniture retailers. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Jacobs Furniture, but I don’t think even Alan Bond’ll be taking out his chequebook for this one anytime soon. Even at 50% off.