In further evidence that the world is an evil place, I present to you Exhibit ZZY. Once a quaint, harmless little art-deco Coles supermarket and variety store, this Burwood Road location now offers only a variety of soulless banking institutions, neither of which could afford decent paint:
While we’re on the topic, remember when Coles was just a supermarket? Now, each Coles pretty much functions as a bank: you can withdraw, deposit, you wait in a long line to get treated like dirt, and they assault you with painful television ads in your own home. In a further chilling parallel, Coles is even attempting an insurance service now, which by all accounts seems to be going over as well as those Status Quo ads.
When Cash Converters first appeared in Sydney in the early 90s, they were pushing themselves as the legitimate pawnbrokers. You could feel just as comfortable walking in to purchase a ghetto blaster as you could walking in to hock one. In fact, destigmatising the act of hocking was something Cash Converters actively tried to work towards. In the eyes of the Cash Converters you weren’t some junkie whose true intentions were the china white elephant in the room, you were a valued customer. Even the name Cash Converters subliminally worked to suggest ‘Hey, you’re not hocking anything. You’re converting your unwanted goods for cash, and we’re making it happen. Aren’t we great?’
By 1996 the honeymoon was over. The true junkies and dodgy dealers had managed to corrupt the brand, and once again reputable folks were ashamed to be seen there. In the last five years they’ve staged a comeback of sorts (Cash Converters, not reputable folks), and it seems to be working. In fact, there already is a Burwood Cash Converters, but it ain’t this one. This, a little further up the street, is their first aborted attempt at converting Burwood’s cash, and it’s telling that when they went back for a second try, they gave this place a wide berth.
The lack of care put in the first time around is evident – the Cash Converters sign is crudely stuck over yet another sign. It even sports the chain’s tagline of the early 90s, which gives me an excuse to post this ad. If I could put it in every post, I would.
Today, the shop is occupied by an Asian supermarket, a proud retailer of globally beloved jasmine rice Royal Umbrella. They’re also clearly very proud of the ‘Trusted Brand’ award they won in 2010, an honour I’m guessing has never been bestowed upon Cash Converters. By the way, if you’ve still got the Cash Converters jingle stuck in your head, head over to the Royal Umbrella site and get a load of theirs. And remember – the whole world loves.
Even as the cranes of development encroach upon Burwood Road, the clogged vein that runs between the Hume and Parramatta arteries, it’s still possible to find hints of the past. For example, here we have the Burwood Fruit Bowl, run by the Giuffre brothers.
According to the can’t-believe-it-exists Sydney’s Italian Fruit Shops dot com, a Carlo Giuffre managed a fruit shop on Burwood Road from 1910-1916 before leaving the country in 1918. Repeat: that was his reaction in 1918! Imagine if he saw Burwood Road now! Sands directories from 1908-1912 mention a Giuffre Bros fruiterer in the Newtown area, but no word on whether they employed their clever-once shop name a second time. Whether his brother stuck around and kept the shop going is also unknown, but it certainly requires a hefty suspension of disbelief to imagine this was the 1916 shopfront.
The font used in today’s vintage shopfront signage to me seems very 20s, and certainly striking enough to keep around…at least until the bulldozers get to work. Until that time, the Chen Guang Variety Shop provides Burwegians (c’mon, give me that one) with all the junk they’ll ever need, while the neighbouring Burwood Fruit Market fills the street’s Giuffre-shaped void with fruit as blandly efficient as the shop’s name.
According to the Canterbury Council website, the small suburb of Belfield (previously visited here, here and here) “experienced a small increase in population between 1996-2001 due to new dwellings being added”. I’m guessing that population increases are like blog hits to local council, because they’ve given the go-ahead to plenty more dwellings and sacrificed one of Belfield’s most iconic structures in the process.
It may not look like much, but this is Belfield Plaza. It replaced a BP petrol station (extant only through the site’s driveways) but kept the initials. The servo itself replaced a series of houses, and the cycle gives a great insight into the changing needs of society over the last century or so. I’m not entirely sure when the plaza was built, but if I had to guess I’d say mid 80s.
Shopping arcades are a mixed bag for kids. If there’s not a newsagent (for cards and comics), a milk bar (for junk food, video games and ice cream) or even a mixed business (for the best of both worlds), there’ll be tears before bedtime. My grandparents lived in Belfield, so I spent a lot of time here as a kid, and I can honestly say that Belfield Plaza’s offerings didn’t interest me one bit…until the video shop moved in. Time for an anecdote…
This video shop (the suburb’s third!) was an independent one, and for a kid it seemed huge. It was how (along with granny’s membership card) I was able to discover favourites like Aliens, Batman and, memorably, The Terminator (I’m a dude – deal with it). I’d seen T2 on TV and was keen to see the original, so I barreled into the video shop and asked the guy, “Do you have Terminator?”
He stared back, blankly. “Schwarzenegger?” he replied.
It was my turn to stare blankly. What other Terminator was there? “Terminator…” I repeated, suddenly unsure if I’d gotten the title correct.
“Schwarzenegger…?” he asked, experiencing the same dilemma. “Hadoken!” yelled the nearby Super Street Fighter II machine, breaking the awkward silence of the standoff. It seemed to break his trance, too. “Action’s up the back.” I ran towards the back of the shop as he called out “Excellent film, too,” as if going for the hard sell was necessary. Thanks, video shop guy. If you ever read this, know you did some good in this world.
The video shop moved out around 1996 and was replaced with a paint store. Who makes these decisions? As with the rest of Belfield, the plaza continued to decline throughout the 90s and into the 2000s, where it felt like a relic. Belfield Plaza’s one success story was Mancini’s, a wood fire pizza restaurant which moved from the plaza to the adjacent corner of Downes Street, itself a former video shop. Mancini’s now has the ultimate vantage point from which to watch as the plaza which nurtured it through the tough early days is pulled down and replaced by a generic retail/residential combo.
Yes, I realise that once upon a time someone might have felt the same way about the BP as I do about B. P., and that these were considered generic once upon a time. But Belfield Plaza, and in particular that video shop, I’ll never forget. The hours drained playing Street Fighter, the many movies discovered and rehired over and over, the woodfired pizzas on a Saturday evening after a day in the pool…it all happened here, and now it can never happen again.
Looks like Clancy’s finally has some competition…
From Belfield’s worst to Nature’s Best. I wonder if Belfieldians are starting to wish it had just stayed a BP?