These days, this building on the corner of Mountain Street and Broadway, Ultimo, houses a convenience store, apartments, and our old friend Breadtop, but the inconspicuous facade hides a colourful and tempestuous history.
Built in 1911, the building started life as the Broadway Theatre, a cinema. With the advent of TV, this was one of many suburban cinemas that had fallen by the wayside by 1960, when it closed. In 1968, it was acquired by nightclub owner John Spooner and converted into Jonathan’s Disco, where it became well known as one of Sydney’s prime live music venues. Sherbet and Fraternity both got their big break at Jonathan’s, playing residencies involving six hour days for months on end. Imagine the poor disco staff having to listen to six hours of Sherbet a day for months. Perks of the job…
In May 1972, Jonathan’s Disco was gutted by fire. I can’t help but think it was one of those beleaguered staff members. “HowZAT?” they’d’ve quipped as they flicked their cigarette into the freshly-poured puddle of gasoline. The damage was extensive, and required a complete internal refit before it was opened again in 1976 as a ballroom dancing studio.
The Sydney City Council granted the Maltese community use of the premises as a licensed venue in 1980, when it became the Phoenician Club. Once more, the site became one of Sydney’s most popular live music venues with local bands such as Powderfinger and Ratcat playing gigs there throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Nirvana played their first Sydney show there in 1992 – a far cry from Sherbet. Around this time, the rave scene exploded in Sydney; a development that would lead to the end of the Phoenician Club.
Anna Wood, a 15yo schoolgirl from Belrose, attended an ‘Apache’ dance party at the Phoenician in October 1995, where she took ecstasy. Her resulting death shocked Sydney and enraged then-NSW Premier Bob Carr, who declared war on the Club. A series of fines and restrictions imposed on live venues in the wake of Wood’s death led to the closure of the Club in 1998 and the decline of Sydney’s live music scene which continues today. Good thing Wood wasn’t killed by a pokie machine.
From 1998 the site sat derelict, just in time for the Olympics. Nothing international visitors like seeing more than abandoned, graffiti-tagged buildings. In 2001 it was completely redeveloped internally, and today satisfies Carr’s idea of a venue put to good use.
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.