Remember when Michael Jordan went from dominating basketball to embarrassing baseball? Today’s subject is a little bit like that, only without the Bugs Bunny team-up to make it palatable (I asked, he’s a busy rabbit). Still sports-related, mind you.
WHOA! Are you into top gear yet? Back in 1994, the clamorous Tony D’Allura was the managing director of Fleets, a sports gear warehouse. At 154 Parramatta Road, Ashfield, D’Allura broadcast this entreaty to those in the market for day-glo boogie boards and flippers…and woe to any piece of cardboard with a dollar value written on it that got in his way.
It was this arresting commercial that gave me pause, first to check my hearing, and second to find out what had happened to that location. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, how long can you last when you’re selling flippers at “unbelievable” prices?
But before we get to the ultimate fate of Fleets, let’s go back a bit further. Even back in its residential days, someone was trying to flog stuff at crazy prices:
Glorious tone and volume, eh? Now, who does that remind you of…
The site’s sportswear days date back to at least 1976, when it was home to Ski-Ace Pty Ltd, owners of the BLACK MAX trademark. I don’t know about you, but the idea of Tony D’Allura screaming about bargain marital aids during The Simpsons back in 1996 appeals, it really does.
In 1978, Ski-Ace became Fleets Sports World, specialising in winter gear, and by 1990, they were a known brand with ONE LOCATION ONLY. As we already know, by 1994 they’d expanded into surfing gear and general sports equipment, and two years later they expanded into Brookvale. As with our old mate Toyworld, country towns followed.
Here’s where things become preposterous…
Fleet Flyers was a small courier company founded in Sydney in 1921. 40 years later, it was bought out by Australian National Couriers, which is still active today.
In 2000, Fleets Sports World vacated the Ashfield location, and was replaced by Canova Interiors. Ok, I hear you say, who cares?
Well, Fleets Flyers began to use that same address, and apparently adopted the extra ‘s’ along the way. Neither the mostly defunct Fleets website or the still-active ANC site (which the Fleets site redirects to) mention Fleets Sports World in their history or about pages, nor do they mention any sporting history whatsoever.
So what happened? Did they move in simply because the name was already on the sign? Unless Tony D’Allura resurfaces to tell us the story via podcasts Cheez TV-style, we may never know.
What we do know is that neither Fleet, Fleets, ANC, or even Canova Interiors operate outta Ashfield anymore:
The old Fleets, along with Brescia Furniture and some other relics have been razed to make way for WestConnex. The sun has set on Parramatta Road’s commercial viability. No longer can you plan a day of shopping for soccer balls, leather lounges or ribs along this soon-to-be-habitrail, and frankly it boggles the mind that it was ever possible.
But should an ANC driver ever feel a chill as they pass this stretch of the motorway in years to come, well, now we’ll know why.
And don’t mourn for Fleets – against all odds they’re kicking on in regional NSW, where it’s appropriate to appear in your own ads. Have a look if you don’t believe me:
Dry your eyes.
Special shoutout to my homie Flemishdog for uploading these and many other old ads. Love your work, Mr Marshall.
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.