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The Scrivener: Pinewood Shopping Centre - 2

Brian Barratt’s local shopping centre in Melbourne, Australia, has seen big changes during the past 40 years – and the biggest change of all is the loss of its individuality.

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The Disappearing Shops

Soon after I moved into this house (in Melbourne, Australia, nearly 40 years ago, I heard a surprising noise in the early hours of the morning. Filtering through the bedroom window was the clip-clop of a horse plodding slowly along the crescent at about half past five. Milk was still delivered in bottles, by horse and cart. Nowadays, we buy it in cardboard boxes. Many other things have changed.

There used to be corner shops and milk bars all over the suburbs. If you needed bread, milk, a newspaper, a meat pie, an ice-cream, cigarettes, a tin of baked beans, whatever, they were there to serve you. Many of them also made sandwiches. Most of them have long since closed down because of the growth of supermarkets and various take-away food franchises.

Among the shopping centres within easy reach is Pinewood. Established in the early 1960s, it has no pretensions of becoming the largest in Australia like Chadstone, five or six kilometres away. Around 1985 it had fewer than 40 shops. I'm not sure of the exact number because I didn't start noting the changes until a bit later. There are now about 55 shops or businesses with a street frontage. A few of the original types of business are still there and even fewer of the original owners remain.

If you go to Pinewood on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday now, you can't pop into a milk bar for a newspaper or an ice-cream. There is an ice-cream shop but it doesn't sell ordinary ice-creams on sticks. You can buy a newspaper, but you have to go to the supermarket. There used to be two milk bars. One is now a fast-food shop with a small café but it closes at weekends. The other is a pizza shop.

There were also two hardware shops. They closed down in the early 1990s, when a few companies set up huge hardware stores on their own land, with plenty of car parking spaces (I think they're called DIY stores in Britain).

Of two butchers, only one remains, albeit having passed through the hands of several owners. The display now consists largely of pre-packed meats and ready-to-cook dishes. The supermarket, which was extended about 10 years ago, has a wall of pre-packed meat as well as a delicatessen counter. Likewise, only one of the two fruit and vegetable shops remains, but it has expanded its range to include Chinese and other Asian groceries.

There were three banks, too. They closed down to the accompaniment of assurances like 'to provide better service', you know the sort of thing. Only their ATMs remain. However, two other banks have opened branches at Pinewood since 2000. One is a community bank, which was greeted with enthusiasm. The other is a branch of a Queensland bank which is probably establishing itself in the state of Victoria.

There used to be a men's clothing shop tucked away in the corner near the small cinema which is still there. At the rear of the shop was an independent business, a gents' hairdresser. When the clothing business closed down, 15 or 20 years ago, and a café occupied the shop, the hairdresser moved to his own premises. Gentlemen now have to visit larger shopping centres for their clothes. One of my neighbours tells me that there also used to be a ladies' clothing shop. It, too, has gone.

There were two little places I used to enjoy visiting. One was the music and record shop, where a delightful young couple were always ready for a chat. She was willing and able to obtain records which were not in stock. He had a repair workshop at the back, and would turn his hand to anything involving radios and record players. Large department stores and national franchise chains were opening in the bigger shopping centres. That pleasant couple shut up shop long, long ago.

The other pleasure could be enjoyed only at weekends. A local teacher had a small art gallery of paintings, drawings and ceramics. His premises could hardly be called a shop — he occupied what was the space beneath a stairs which led to the dentist above the neighbouring shops. I would go and chat with him, mainly because he was a very nice chap who relished a good conversation. I did buy several stoneware mugs, a well glazed set of dessert bowls, and a rather lovely painting which still hangs in my living room.

A neighbour who was professionally involved in the food industry tells me that there were also two grocery shops at Pinewood in the 1960s. One was of the self-service type which slowly disappeared with the spread of larger supermarkets. The other had a liquor licence and by the time I arrived in the area had become a bottle store.

In the next article, we'll have a look at the changing pattern of food outlets.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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