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Grapevine Cellars/For Lease – Belfield, NSW

In yet another sign of the times, a unit block will replace this former Liquorland bottle shop, which is heading to virtual pastures, having moved online on May…1th?

1th?

How could they make a mistake like this? Didn’t anyone spot the error when they were painting the sign on in hot pink? Does May the 1th fall right after Smarch? Was this a leap-100-million-years and we just don’t realise that a May 1th hasn’t occurred since a stegosaurus got laughed at by his unlearned friends for painting May 1th on his soon-to-be-moving bottle-o?

You know what? Good. I’m glad they’re moving. That way I don’t have to pay twenty dollarth for a bottle of wine.

Rick Damelian/For Sale – Leichhardt, NSW

If you owe $80m to creditors, lost eight car yards in the last year and failed to get any bids at all when you tried to sell your three Parramatta Road dealerships, chances are you’re Rick Damelian. Born in Uruguay to Armenian parents, Ricardo Damelian came to Australia in the 70s, and in 1978 started the Damelian Group. Establishing his dealerships along the high-visibility Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, Damelian changed the face of car sales by doing everything bigger and classier than his I’ll-appear-in-my-own-TV-ad competitors. Rick’s strip of dealerships contained a business centre which included a gym and a library, while rumours suggest a secret tunnel existed between the caryards and his volcanic island stronghold, which boasted a rocket launchpad, submarine base and a highly trained force of ninjas. Hey, they didn’t call Rick the ‘King of Taverners Hill’ for nothing.

Rick was known as ‘dealer to the stars’, but not for the reasons you may have heard. What it means is he sold cars to celebrities, if you count Lara Bingle as a celebrity. There’s one of Rick’s problems right there – if you sell an expensive car to someone with the surname Bingle, nothing will stop you when Larry Smash or Howard T-Bone walk onto the lot.

The motto of Rick’s dealerships was “The Best Place in the World to Shop for your Prestige Vehicle”. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? This motto meant little towards the end, when to stop the cash haemorrhage Rick had lowered himself to *vomit* making cars affordable for families and lower income earners. The things you do for money, right?

As good as he was at selling cars, with $300m-a-year profits and more than 100 cars sold per week at his peak, Rick made some bad choices in his time. In 2003, he invested in struggling radio and phone company Strathfield Group, of Strathfield Car Radios fame. Both Rick and Strathfield went into receivership in 2011, with Strathfield holding on for a whole month longer than Rick did before the bean counters came knocking. Shoulda kept the money, Rick.

One of Rick’s major problems was that Honda, his bread and butter, had been hit hard by the Japanese tsunami. No supply meant no sales, and the big bosses in Japan were too busy placing saucepans under their dripping ceilings to return Rick’s calls. When Rick went under, his remaining cars were returned to their suppliers, which I’m sure was just what Honda wanted. How many of these cars were destined for low income families we can’t know, but we do know that they’re getting their deposits back from the Office of Fair Trading’s motor vehicle compensation fund, and NOT from Rick himself. That may seem unfair, but think about it from Rick’s point of view. As a low income family himself now, he’ll need those deposits to buy a 1994 Mazda hatchback to drive to Centrelink.

Another was that Rick’s brother Robert, thought to have been the mastermind behind the whole operation, left the Damelian Group in 2008 after a falling out with Rick, leaving only Rick’s flamboyance at the helm. Unfortunately, this was no longer the 80s – it just doesn’t fly anymore. Just ask Mad Barry. Of course, there was a lot of blame placed on the global economic crisis, and I’m sure that had *yawn* a lot to do with it, too. Robert’s apparent business savvy does not seem to have been shared by Rick; when the banks were encouraging him to start selling off his assets when his fortunes started to dip, Rick would ask for more than was offered every time, and would subsequently lose the sale. Maybe he wasn’t throwing in air conditioning and a three year warranty, those always help to sweeten the deal. Now that expressions of interest are being called again after the collapse, no one’s interested. I don’t see how the apartment building craze doesn’t catch on here, a few more ugly towers wouldn’t be out of place in the area.

Rick Damelian in more prosperous times

Car franchises held by Rick included Honda, Suzuki, Saab (pfft), Renault, Citroen, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Skoda. All the high quality showrooms in the world won’t help you when no one is buying what you’re selling, and given the number of SUVs and 4WDs on the road these days (oh, and bicycles of course, City of Sydney), it’s no surprise first time buyers or those on a budget weren’t spending cash at Rick’s, despite his library and gym.

When the saga ended in October 2011, Rick’s business was 33 years old, five years older than his third wife.

While the money men behind the scenes struggle to sell off what are turning out not to be assets at all, Rick’s showrooms sit quiet and empty on Parramatta Road, waiting in limbo, like so many other places in Sydney, for their next life. Let’s take a look around.

This was Rick’s prestige car lot, and I believe it was his first car dealership on Parramatta Road. These days, the Peak Hour Parramatta Road Car Yard (™) has more cars than this.

WE’VE MOVED, says the big red lettering, and at first you assume that’s the reason the dealership is empty. But then you look over the road next to Honda, and see that that’s empty too. No big red letters there, though.

What’s wrong with this picture? Notice anything missing? So synonymous was Rick’s name with cars that he didn’t even need to put the word ‘cars’ on his sign to let people know what he was selling. It probably helped too that the yard was once full of prestige cars. Didn’t he ever think it’d be empty?

Rick’s office chair is the only thing on either lot with wheels. It’s got arms too, so of course it’s on the prestige lot.

In a fit of rage, someone’s hurled Rick’s filing cabinet onto the empty lot. It couldn’t have weighed that much, I suppose. There wouldn’t have been much paperwork for Rick to file in the last few years.

Rick’s prestige lot has become one of Parramatta Road’s many ‘dealership dealerships’. They should have some fun with it: “GOOD NICK, ONLY 300,000 SALES ON THE DASH, ONE PREVIOUS OWNER ONLY TOOK IT OUT ON WEEKENDS OR SPECIAL OCCASIONS”.

Here’s that picture again, seen through a ‘Rick Damelian Simulator’.

Fully sick! There’s a fully licensed restaurant here! Rick should have had a Red-P licensed restaurant for the kiddies too, but since they weren’t customers, no dice. I set off the building’s alarm taking this photo, but I wasn’t exactly worried that Rick’s patrolians were coming to sort me out. Those guys don’t work for free.

It’s Ric’s Cafe! I’m guessing that by not calling it ‘Rick’s Cafe’, Rick was a. avoiding any copyright issues with Casablanca and b. liability free if anyone got sick, died or otherwise had an unpleasant dining experience. I like that the ‘N’ in ‘restaurant’ has come loose, giving it that dilapidated, derelict feel. I bet that happened when they shut the door on the last day. This was actually the first restaurant to be incorporated into an Australian car dealership’s premise. Guessing not too many caryards will be following the trend given how it worked out.

The weekly special at Rick’s Ric’s Cafe was a glass of white wine. Well, that IS special.

Rick (nor Ric) hasn’t got many customers today, but just in case business picks up, there’s more seating upstairs.

When the repo men came, they took the Ns first.

Here’s Rick’s Parts & Accessories office, complete with Rick’s trophy cabinet; much like the showrooms, it’s looking a little bare. Those flowers look very ‘with sympathies at this difficult time’, don’t they?

If your Rick Damelian needs service, you’d come here to get him fixed. Ricks generally run for about 40 years before they start to conk out, and when they do watch out: you don’t want to be around.

Dedicated to excellence is a mantra I can believe, because there sure isn’t anything else on this lot. Nice lounges in the waiting area; they’re presumably there for creditors, who’ll be waiting awhile.

Hey, congratulations Rick! Honda Dealer of the Year…no years running. Oh. Still, it’s no biggie – even Honda isn’t Honda Dealer of the Year these days.

When these showrooms eventually go, there’ll be little to remind Sydneysiders of the legitimate impact Rick made on the world of car sales. I propose that in recognition for all he’s done for motorists, the nearby footbridge over Parramatta Road should be renamed the Rick Damelian Overdraw – uh, I mean, Overpass.

Update: One year later, the fortune of Rick’s caryards has improved. Rick’s, on the other hand…

Take Away Food/Nothing – Leichhardt, NSW

Someone certainly took away the food from this pitiful row of shops along Parramatta Road at Leichhardt. It’s hard to see, but beneath the BEEFBURGERS sign, it says ‘Millions of Varieties‘. Wow, what a boast, considering they’ve already chosen the very specific ‘beefburgers’ to promote the shop. By the look of the building, this middle shop might have been the jewel in the crown of these three businesses once upon a time, but those days are long gone.

Take away shops on busy roads like this tend to die off when surrounding businesses start to close down, because it’s not like motorists can easily stop and run in for beefburger variety #6,546,500. Parramatta Road anywhere is not really the right environment for this kind of place, but that doesn’t deter them. Nor, clearly, does it deter the button shop next door. That’ll work.

Route 66/Hadla Ice Confectionery – Revesby, NSW

Image courtesy Bradley Torr

Let’s go back to the early 1990s, when someone had a bright idea: ‘How about a series of 50s-style Americana-filled burger restaurants…in Sydney!’ If that sounds stupid, that’s because it is. Hungry Jacks had been trying for years to evoke thatHappy Days flavour, but it just wasn’t washing with the Whopper-eating public. HJ has quietly phased out the Americana over the last ten years, but it’s not uncommon to walk in and find pictures of Elvis and Marilyn adorning the walls, a jukebox in the corner and fries so stale they could only be from 1958. The mastermind behind Route 66 had clearly decided that HJ wasn’t going far enough, and launched the above restaurant at Revesby around 1994. It wasn’t some Mickey Mouse venture, either – there were TV ads imploring hungry viewers to ‘get their kicks’. Within the impressively chromed exterior, girls in miniskirts served up grilled burgers, fries and shakes to patrons amid 50s tunes and checkered floors, while outside the owners hoped to recreate the burger joint atmosphere by providing plenty of parking and a drive-thru service. By all accounts the burgers weren’t bad, but one of the many mistakes the owners made was setting up shop across the road from an infinitely more accessible McDonald’s. Route 66 sits along Canterbury Road, with customers forced to enter and exit via the busy thoroughfare. The customers didn’t take long to work out that it was easier to get into the McDonald’s, and by 2000 the Route 66 dream was over. There were a few Route 66 locations beside this one, but I’m not sure whether they were all part of the same franchise or not. Prestons featured a notorious Route 66 for many years, where hoons really did congregate en masse, much to residents’ discontent.

After Route 66 bit the dust, the site played host to a variety of Lebanese restaurants, all forced to wear the chrome. Today, the chrome is as shiny as ever outside Hadla Ice Confectionery. All of the post-Route 66 ventures to inhabit the place tried and failed to disguise the 50s decor (Hadla’s come the closest), but if you didn’t remember what it was, you probably wouldn’t question it. The only real evidence that Route 66 was ever here is the drive-thru…

…which is now closed off, and has been cleverly converted into an outdoorish seating area for Hadla customers. It’s still chromed up to the max, and gives you a clear idea of what Route 66’s drive-thru customers must have endured in the restaurant’s tireless efforts to send you back to 1955 (maybe they should have had an 88mph speed limit for the drive-thru?). Seeing places like this always makes me wonder about the people who would have worked there – young girls and guys paying their way through uni or getting some extra cash to save up for a car while in high school. I wonder if they look back on their days at Route 66 fondly, or whether those few months or years have been wiped from the resume. I wonder what the owners are doing now, how they must have felt when the writing was on the wall, and if they ever drive past and think about the happy days. The quest to inspire nostalgia in others has become nostalgia in itself.

If you have any stories to share about this place, I’d be fascinated to hear them.

Laundry/Derelict – Concord, NSW

It’s just a guess, but maybe this laundry failed because the signage was perhaps a bit too garish and overbearing. Another victim of tall poppy syndrome, you know?