Friday, February 05, 2010

Tale of a Milk Bar

A milk bar, just one little milk bar. Is dairy the word in NZ? Drug store in the US? Amazingly against the onslaught of extended supermarket hours, 711s, and many other convenience stores, some milk bars have survived. Let me tell you of one near my work place.

We start in the early 1980s. Supermarket trading hours were quite restricted. There were a few 711s around, but they were large places and funnily, opened between 7am and 11pm. The milk bar I speak of was a vibrant business. Sandwiches, coffee, deep fryer, papers, ice creams, bread, milk, pies and pasties, coffee, lollies, yep the full on mega milk bar. Plus, it was a Tattslotto agency.

The local newsagent was new. He coveted the local milkbar because it had a Tatslotto agency. He bought the milk bar and installed his mother in it and she ran it well enough. After a year or so, he transferred the Tattslotto agency to his newsagency. It may have taken that long for administrative reasons or tax reasons. There was no longer a reason for the newsagent to own a milk bar and he sold it on as a successful business. It was then owned for a few more years by some Aussies but then it was sold to some Asian born people.

They did initially try to run it as a business to make money. I recall the Chinese Mama chasing a school boy from one or your most exclusive schools down the street because he had snitched something. But the milk bar was looking tired and dingy. My Thai workmate explained to me, it is an immigration thing. They have some money to invest in a business and they invest without caring or understanding about the business. It is just a tool to stay here.

The faces seemed to change and I stopped patronising the business. On the odd occasion I did go in, a slovenly Chinese woman in a pilled tracksuit eventually appeared from out the back to serve me. Sorry to have bothered you. The deep fryer had not been used for years, the pie oven was long cold and the ice cream selection very poor. A few packets of crisps sat on a dirty chrome frame. I expect almost all stock was out of date.

I really did stop going there in the early 2000s. By then cheap overseas phone call stickers on the filthy exterior window had obscured the filthy state of the interior.

By about 2007 I never saw a customer enter the shop and around that time, it closed.

Then in 2008, activity started happening. Gone were the stickers on the windows, it was being cleaned inside and out and getting a minor renovation. I think they were a Maori couple who took it over, Islander at least.

Then it seemed to change hands again in 2009 with Australian born owners. More renovations and smartening up. Outdoor seating and tables added, music outside from speakers. It was now looking very inviting.

Slowly and slowly the numbers are building up again. Still no where near what they were but it is on its way back to being a successful business. I wish it well.


  1. Anonymous2:43 pm

    Milbars and Fish & Chippy's are a dieing breed - just like us.

    Where can I get my battered scallops and savs from now. Not to mention my chocolate malted triple icecream scoop milkshake.

  2. One of the things I miss the most about the move to a new estate is a milk bar. At our old place we had two within two minutes walk. Oddly enough we only ever went to one. Milk bars are a bit like footy teams I guess; once you choose one it's yours for life and you never change.

  3. In New York they are called bodegas, drugstores are more like chemists though you can buy cigarettes and junk food there as well as your pharmacy item, like toothbrushes which supermarkets don't sell such pharmacy items unless you are at what is called a big box store such as Wal-Mart. Drugstores are generally chains and usually referred to by their brand name. - 'yeah you can get your script filled at Duane Reade, while you're there can you pick me up some ciggies and some popcorn'?

  4. I thought a drug store is where you buy 'a soda'. There's a retro drug store in Beverley Hills, and sanitised? golly, it looks like a surgery.
    Three milk bars have closed around here in ten years, gobbled up by the 7-11 in Melbourne road.
    The dirtiest looking fish and chip shop in Melb is in Douglas Parade Williamstown, hilariously surrounded by flash latte emporiums and South Yarra style boutiques. Strange, I just can't
    work it out (an historical display?). No customers, and the proprietor sits on a bench this side of the counter in deep reverie. Maybe pondering the best way to put a match to it.

  5. There used to be a cinema on Parramatta Road in Annandale called the Olympia. I went there during the 1950s with my parents in the days when it was smoked filled from the cigarette smokers.

    Next door to it was a thriving milk bar owned by a Greek family. The cinema declined in popularity during the 1960s, closed in the 1970s and then reopened as a 'triplex' in the 1980s when business thrived for a while before declining again in the 1990s.

    The milk bar continued next door throughout all this with its business apparently mirroring cinema patronage. It seems the same family continued as the milk bar's owners with a doddering couple who appeared to be in their 70s serving towards the end.

    The decor and appearance of the milk bar declined steadily until it was dark, dingy and uninviting.

    Finally the cinema and adjacent milk bar were demolished in the 1990s and replaced by apartments built over street level retail outlets. Now just memories for old farts like me.

  6. dark dingy and uninviting describes the fish shop in Douglas Parade, nothing done to it in fifty years. There was a cinema in Chapel Street Prahran called The Empress, we called it The Bughouse. One day a kid threw a cracker at the screen and burnt the place down.

  7. Gah! Blogger et my wonderful comment!
    I was saying that my Nan said never to trust a shop with "filthy windows"...she was right of course.

  8. Not at your 711 Anon.

    Anthony, did it have a squeaky door with a bell on it?

    Interesting Ian. I have never heard the word bodega. Perhaps I need to hear it with an American accent.

    Given it has gone Victor, it is good that some old farts speak of such things. It is one thing to have written records, quite another to get a personal account.

    RH, that triangular site near Windsor Station? A nightclub opened there by the same name and there were lots of problems.

    Many Asian owned shops are like that Cazzie. While it puts us off, they don't seem to worry about it.

  9. There was indeed a cinema on that triangular site Andrew, I can't remember it's name right now. The Empress was up the street a bit from the town hall and I'm not certain but I think it's the Chapel Street Bazaar (marvellous place) now. It was also previously a Waltons store.

  10. I find the 50 posters in the window of milkbars offering cheap call rates to Vietnam, Russia or Canada on phone cards look a bit tacky.

    Apparently these sort of shops thrive on tobacco sales to stay in business. I've been asked in a suburban milkbar before if I wanted any cigarettes when I was buying a drink!

  11. We do indeed say dairy here, but we also had milkbars a-plenty in days gone by. Some gained the famous seedy rep from the 1950s when folks worried about their teenagers.

    By the sounds of it, your milkbars seem to be a cross between our dairies and grocers shops (4 Square). But with deep fryers? You're up on us as far as that goes, for sure.

  12. RH, the Bazaar is a large place so quite possible. An acquaintance manages it at times. I will ask him. Wasn't Waltons on the corner of High Street? A workmate worked there. I will ask him. No, that was Maples on the corner. I will check.

    Very tacky Somebody. Maybe some Asian owned milk bars sell chop chop on the side. I heard 30% of 711 profits are from cigarette sales.

    Ah TS. Back in the days when they served soda and had jukeboxes. Deep fryers in milk bars are unusual here too.

  13. that corner dept store on Chapel & High was REIDS - went bust in the credit squeeze of 1962 I think.

  14. Greetings, sorry to be up so late, Reads was on the SW corner of Chapel Street and Commercial Road, known for miles as "Reads Corner". My daddy bought me a cowboy suit there one day when he was drunk, asking a store dummy the way to the toy department, "Scoosmee fella..." that's how he talked. The building later became 'Moores' and is now apa-a-a-rtments I believe. Maples was on the NW corner of Chapel and High Streets, I once slapped down a deposit on a lounge suit there and marched home in triumph to tell my future bride whereupon she got hysterical and made me cancel it. Maybe because we were living in a dump, I don't know. Lots of Asian (and other) milk bars here in the West survive on chop chop sales. Some tobacconists sell it too. It's very damp when you buy it, wet in fact. When the girls were living here we'd somehow accumulated about five kilos of the stuff. It began to go mouldy so one night I spread it in baking trays and shoved it in the fan forced oven to dry it. When I opened the oven door enormous fumes of nicotine burst out engulfing the whole house. I had to go outside. Lucky the the girls were in bed asleep. Next day they laughed like mad of course, another RH disaster. Some milk bars are (were?) known as mixed businesses because they stocked some grocery items, one near me sold a bit of fruit and veg as well. An Arab down in Mason Street started out with a rundown milk bar and has turned it into a fullblown mini mart, it's so successful he's built a huge mansion above and behind it. The local trendies prefer it to the 7-11 of course, cosmopolitans that they are, ha ha. And juke joints, good heavens. And 'book ups' oh my goodness! And so on, and on, enough of all this.

  15. Can't stand those windows covered in cheap phone rate stickers, blah.
    Grotty outside doubly grotty inside.

  16. Ann, said workmate who worked at Waltons was earlier employed at Reids.

    Speaking of Chapel St Bazaar RH, I noticed a Balaclava Bazaar the other day, similar setup but smaller. Not been in yet.

    And Jayne, you would not want to buy anything that wasn't wrapped.

  17. Ha ha dairy, that reminded me of a funny story.
    Years ago I had a New Zealand lad boarding at my house. Not long after he arrived he asked me where the nearest dairy was.
    Perplexed, I said, well probably in Gippsland, what do you want to go to a dairy for?
    To get milk and bread and the paper was the reply, then it dawned on me that he wanted the milkbar!
    I still giggle about it, I had visions of him going to visit cows to do a spot of milking!
    We had a wonderful milkbar where I grew up, we used to cycle the 2.5kms up and down the hills to spend $2 on a mixed bag of lollies or to get icecreams. It was always exciting!!

  18. Yes Andrew, thanks, and when you arrive here for afternoon tea I'll show you all my treasures (from Chapel Street Bazaar).

    A W Malloy, how right you are, and as a regular there was a good chance of credit (a 'book up') Some had a sign saying: Please don't ask for credit as a refusal may offend.
    But we did anyway.

  19. I guess had we not had a NZ born friend years ago and visited NZ too, I would probably remain ignorant about an NZ dairy. As a kid, I can remember there were local dairies where milk was bottled and delivered from.

  20. Having grown up in a Milk bar (we were in it for just under 10 years - 1977-1987) I can fully identify with this post Andrew. We had the usual milk, bread, drinks fridge, ice cream freezer, small selection of groceries, ciggies, lollies and the few novelties that barely sold. I guess like a supermarket of today, in smaller size/quantities. There were 6 or 7 shops in the strip, fnc, hairdresser and barber, MD office, butcher, pizza, some stayed, others were in and out. Our old milk bar is now a hairdressers, which is now next door to the barbers (when we were there the hairdresser was behind the barber, in the same shop, with a wall dividing the two.
    I love the idea of new shops going into old, being dressed up and given a lick of paint and a spruce and a change of type of shop. Even when people turn them into residences. I'd love to live in an old milk bar. Guess that would be going back to the 80s for me!

  21. That has to be kids paradise Raelene. All those lollies, chips and ice creams. The one I was talking about was two storey with the residence at the back and above.