Ye Olde Corner Shoppe

~ by Barry Nancarrow

My parents owned a small mixed business in Mayfield, at 79 Scholey Street (Phone MW 1474) next to the tracks and at the foot of the high level bridge that links Scholey Street with Chinchen Street and the TAFE, though back then it was all housing.

It was hardly a monopoly though with another small shop about 500 yards down Nelson St and a third, another 500 yards down Chinchen Street.

Pictured at right: George, Jim and Barry Nancarrow with Paul Skewes

A little history.

It would have been in the early '50's that they bought it having moved up from Sydney. I started school at Islington in 1955 and we were living in the shop before that so I'm guessing '53-4.

Like most of those small shopkeepers my parents had no background whatsoever in retailing. My father was a "jack of all trades  master of none" character who could do anything from boot-making to cabinet making. Retail would have been I think, left of field for him and I can only speculate that the potential to earn money from a business was a more attractive proposition than labouring. Or maybe it was a job when he didn't have one. Some things don't change in small business.

Like the hours and the paperwork. My parents used to allow people to run accounts using carbon copy account books. Consequently they used to sit up at nights painfully "doing the books". This was the era when the supermarkets were just coming in ringing the death knell for the corner store. I can recall my father complaining about customers coming to us and putting things "on the tick" while quite willingly making their major purchases at the supermarket where everything was "cash and carry". Our cash never went through a cash register though. We only ever had a till which was removed every night and stored under my parents bed. Our erstwhile lounge room contained all the stock for the shop. Fortunately we never had use for such an extravagance.

Pictured at left: Edith Nancarrow

My parents' shop sold everything in an attempt to make a quid. From smallgoods (N&D Meatee Provisions), to perfume, haberdashery and clothing as well as the staples.

We used to buy the fruit and veg from the Steel Street markets. I say we because on occasion I used to accompany my father on these trips. It was a dirty, slushy and smelly place unlike the bakery in Adamstown where early on a Sunday morning we used to get fresh cooked rolls which were always popular with our customers. It's an unforgettable and tantalising aroma. The heat from the rolls used to fog up the windows of our ancient Fordson truck.

During the week the Store baker would deliver bread from his horse drawn cart. Cakes and pies were sourced from Carmen's bakery in Valencia Street. And although we had refrigeration we also had an iceman call. I can recall helping my parents at night to chip the ice out of the fridges. 

We sold biscuits by the pound or half pound, taking them from their Arnott's (or Peek Frean's) tins, putting them into brown paper bags and weighing them up. The broken ones found their way into the family biscuit tin unless first scoffed by furtive, youthful predators while their parents weren't looking.

Cobbers anyone? To this add buddies, jelly babies, clinkers and Bulgarian rock, that white, hard, yet chewy, mint block. My father loved kids and few ever left the shop without some kind of lolly despite their parental protestations. Lollies were always sold in small, white paperbags, served from jars or the box. Tuppence worth of this, a penny's worth of that. A shilling bought you enough goodies to guarantee a stomach ache not to mention the wrath of the parent figure who instructed you to not spend the change. After all it could have made a healthy contribution to a packet of Craven A or Ardath cigarettes.

At right: The faithfull Fordson

But if the thought of having somebody without synthetic gloves put lollies in a bag for you, or biscuits or any other foodstuffs that you bought challenges your sensitivities, then you are fortunate to not have been around back then. For that was the accepted custom. Not only that but my father was a the shop. He would simply put his cigarette down on the back counter to serve a customer. On more than one occasion he would become engaged with the customer, forgetting his little incendiary device smouldering in the background. My mother used to remonstrate with him about burning the counter but to no avail. Then there was the chewing gum which found a strategic home when needed, but then was promptly forgotten. Ice wasn't the only thing that had to be chipped away.

The Coca-Cola yo-yos, and the Pez dispensers were introduced to tap into the youth market. Parental discipline ensured that my brother and I were minor constituents of that market. They weren't at all mean just trying to manage the kid in a lolly shop scenario.

One night Mayfield suffered a black-out and for a lark my father had my brother and I walk down the street waving a kerosene lantern while chanting "open for business". Perhaps he had a hidden entrepreneurial streak after all.

In response to the supermarket challenge my father joined a cooperative entitled something like the "Northern District Shopkeepers Association". I think my father was secretary or treasurer or something like that. Their objective was to gain greater buying power, a concept which I think gave rise to the "Four Square" stores which have also since disappeared.

History would suggest that my parents' business was not hugely successful for ultimately my father took on a labouring job at Stewart and Lloyds leaving my mother to run the shop on her own. By this time my brother and I were in school. 

Neil Eden, George Nancarrow, and Zackary Zlyden

In late 1958 they sold out after some 4-5 years of retailing and we moved to Blacksmiths for that was the only place they could afford. The house was four doors from the beach which from my perspective was the best decision they ever made.... but that's another story. They would not have been able to afford Blacksmiths to-day.

In a comment on the personal nature of small business, the people who bought the shop from my parents loved Smalls Club chocolate and proceeded to ensure a generous supply of same at the expense of customer demand. This we learnt from former customers who had become friends. 

Although the shop long ago ceased to exist as a commercial enterprise it continues today as a domestic residence, its past history oblivious except perhaps to the seasoned observer.

A couple of tangential comments. Years later the parents of one of my primary school "girlfriends" bought the shop. They ultimately returned to Kurri. My wife grew up in Roe Street down the bottom end of Scholey Street. Despite the proximity and the fact that we both attended Mayfield Baptist Church we didn't connect until I met her one night when she was working at the Kensington theatre. Isn't that so Newcastle?

Below: 79 Scholey Street in 2010.


Additional information, anecdotes, etc., or corrections are welcome.

  1. I went to Islington school with Zack Zlyden and I think he lived next to your shop


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