Toys R Us was coming. The American toy giant had lingered on the horizon of the Australian retail scene since 1984, when it had first ventured overseas. Now, in 1993, Toys R Us had made its intentions to establish itself in Australia very clear. In a panic, and desperate to beat Toys R Us to the punch, Coles Myer set up their own chain of toy stores that attempted to outdo the American company in every conceivable way; a ‘category killer’. It wasn’t the first time Coles Myer had employed the tactic: in the same year, it had established Officeworks, basing it on the US stationery chain Office Depot. To give you an idea of just how contrived the whole concept was, here’s a 1993 ad preempting the World 4 Kids launch. If you can look past the kid’s stylish fashion, note the cynical overuse of the dinosaur to ride the success of the year’s biggest film.
I can still remember the hype surrounding World 4 Kids at the time of its launch. It was relentless. The Bankstown Square location was enormous, taking up an entire floor. To a kid, it was mind-blowing. They had video games available to try everywhere around the shop. They had aisles – not just a few shelves, like Grace Bros, but aisles – of action figures. They even had a ‘kids entry gate’ as an alternative to the regular entrance. Sure, it was just an archway over a little bridge, but that was for YOU! You weren’t meant to walk in the normal way like the grown-ups! This wasn’t just some toy department of a bigger shop. There was no threat of being dragged off to look at clothes or other boring stuff. It was ALL TOYS.
The launch of World 4 Kids didn’t stop Toys R Us from opening, and the closest store to the Bankstown World 4 Kids was at Hurstville. As expected, the Toys R Us store blew World 4 Kids away: it was two-storey, they had more of everything, and the name explicitly promised toys, rather than merely alluding to them in the case of World 4 Kids, which sounds like it could easily have been one of those lame play centres with the ball rooms.
1993 was about the start of the last big era for toys. By the end of the 90s, video games had eclipsed toys by a wide margin. Also by the end of the 90s, World 4 Kids was a world about to end. The company had bombed hard in the wake of Toys R Us, haemorrhaging millions of dollars each year it was open. By the end, it was losing $36m a year, and cost Coles Myer more than $200m during its short lifespan. World 4 Kids, supposed to be the successor to K-Mart’s dominance of the toy market prior to 1993, closed in 2002, and the brand name was absorbed back into K-Mart, which adopted it as the name of its toy department.
This particular World 4 Kids took over the floorspace of Venture, itself formerly Waltons Department Store (but more on that another time), so by failing miserably, it was only carrying on the strong tradition established by those two brands. Where the one store once took up the entire floor, a chemist, the Reject Shop and Best & Less have taken up residence. Immediately following World 4 Kids’ departure, a JB Hifi was set up in its place, but in a rare move for JB it was closed a few years later. Even Toys R Us is struggling these days, with the Hurstville location having long since been reduced to just one floor.
The only evidence that World 4 Kids, the place that meant the world to so many kids in 1993, was ever a part of Bankstown Square is the faint afterimage of its sign on the outside facade of the building, along the Appian Way. Yesterday’s great hope is now just a stain on the wall. It’s a stark reminder that no matter how personally a store may appeal to you, it’s always business. After all, that’s the way of the World.
While I’m completely prepared to imbue you with the knowledge that Breadtop was once Quinn’s Shoe & Sports Store, I’d much rather take this opportunity to speculate. Indulge me…
When I look at this building, I see a proud store owner, Quinn. Quinn’s just bought this building, and he’s going to take the empty shell of opportunity and fill it with progress and achievement. His passion is sport, and he’s walked away from the certainty and stability of a public sector job in order to follow his dream of running a sports shop. He refurbishes his little miracle, which he’s worked hard for years to afford, and decks it out with the latest sports equipment: Dunlop volleys, Steeden rugby gear, Bankstown Canterbury Bulldogs merch, Kookaburra cricket bats. Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings are go time, and Monday and Tuesday are his weekends. Business is booming, life is good. This is Quinn’s shop, and it always will be.
But Quinn is a protective man. And who can blame him, this is his life’s work. This is QUINN’S Shoe and Sports Store, not yours. Certainly not those louts who come and lift socks or a three pack of golf balls every now and then. Quinn’s heart is so into the business, it sometimes blinds him. Like the time he caught young Jim Sawyer from Yagoona trying to pinch a protective cup. Quinn hit the boy several times, it was rumoured. He broke Jim’s nose. One customer said they found a tooth on the shop floor not long after. Quinn didn’t know that Jim was just too embarrassed to buy the cup himself, and even when he found out, Quinn didn’t care.
Times change. Quinn’s doesn’t. Suddenly, you can get three pairs of shoes for half the price at Rebel, or the Nike outlet. Quinn can’t compete with that. Nintendo and Sega take the place of a bat and ball in one too many homes. Quinn can’t even understand that, let alone compete with it. His children, uninterested in the shop, don’t bother to explain it. The time comes when Quinn fails to make that weekly quota he swore to himself he’d never drop under, and even though it pains him to admit it, he knows it’s time to call stumps.
The first of many would-be leaseholders is shown through the building by the real estate agent, and Quinn insists on coming along. After the third instance of Quinn shouting a prospective tenant out of the shop, the agent stops inviting him. When the deal is finally inked, Quinn can’t stand to see his shop being turned into an anonymous clothing store, or a two dollar shop, or worse still, a ridiculously named bakery. It breaks his heart every time he drives by, but he’s so set in his ways he doesn’t know any other route.
Now Quinn is gone, and the shop is long since sold. And everyone would have forgotten Quinn and his passion if it weren’t for one thing. One minor addition he made years before. Quinn hated the idea of besmirching his building with advertising or signs. His customers knew where to find him, and he wasn’t going anywhere. But when he could see the writing on the wall, he could think of no better way to make himself immortal than to spend his last big windfall on a big-ass sign tightly bolted in a hard to reach position.
This is Quinn’s shop, and it always will be.
In Bankstown’s dank and decrepit Compass Centre Arcade, Fowlers Shoes once provided footwear to the populace. The sign sports the original compass logo of the centre, which appears to have never once been refurbished throughout its long and pointless existence. Fowlers dates back to the 1950s, which was a time before the Compass Centre, so obviously they knew how to sell shoes.
These days, as the arcade rots around her, ‘Jo-Anne’ has taken it upon herself to clothe Bankstown, one lady at a time.
Continued from Part III…
In mid-1975, Willesee, a current affairs program on Channel 7, received a tip-off from Bankstown Council garbagemen that a hamburger restaurant at Bankstown had, on a regular basis, some very odd items in its dumpsters out the back. When reporters from the program went down to the Bankstown Hartee’s to investigate, they found that the bins outside were full of dog food cans. Further investigation revealed that the dog food was in fact being sliced into patties and used on the burgers at this particular location:
The devastating report went to air, cripping the Hartee’s brand in the public eye. Despite there being no evidence that such a practice went on in other Hartee’s locations, Kelloggs quickly and quietly abandoned its fast food venture. No official comment was given other than a generic ‘the venture was no longer profitable’ statement.
Almost overnight, all Hartee’s locations were closed and sold. Today, almost nothing remains of the Hartee’s legacy except the stores documented in this series. The Bankstown location subsequently became a Chinese restaurant and a variety of bottle shops. Other locations, such as Hartee’s Liverpool, Manly Vale and Kogarah, have since been demolished.
As previously mentioned, Kelloggs planned to open more than 100 locations around the country, but only 17 were ever opened. It wasn’t until Red Rooster, and even more successfully, Oporto, that an Australian-owned fast food brand managed to establish itself.
Had the scandal not occurred, Hartee’s may have emerged as the primary fast food outlet in Australia today instead of fading into obscurity, but thanks to the actions of some goofballs on minimum wage, it’s a world we’ll never know.
HEARTY UPDATE: There’s more. Always can do one more.
There’s a sick sense of humour lurking behind the decision to turn an old Pizza Hut into a gym. It used to be that you’d walk out of the Bankstown Hoyts 8 cinema and straight over to Pizza Hut for all you could eat, but now you’re faced with a reminder that if you have that plan, you more than likely also have a few curves.
Sadly, for those hoping to undo the damage of years of pizza abuse at Curves, you’re out of luck. The building appears to be empty now, further adding to the wasteland feel of this part of Bankstown, and with his ad-hoc adjustment of the number of years he’s been in Bankstown, Frank isn’t helping.
UPDATE: The Curves gym is still in operation, functioning as a kind of Masonic secret gym society for women only. It’s rumoured that an angry husband of one of the members caused a fuss inside the gym once upon a time, and ever since, men have not been admitted…maybe the guy was just peeved that Pizza Hut was gone. Whatever the story, this sign awaits anyone with the balls the enter (so to speak):
Imagine a Pizza Hut toilet, and then imagine how many times that manager must have been notified. Thanks for the tip, Irmgard!