The Little Corner Shops

By Lindsey-Jane Doley. Adelaide, SA

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A long time ago, before supermarkets or up-market delicatessens, we had the corner shop. In South Australia these were sprinkled across the hills and suburbs, often on a street corner, though not always. At Hawthorndene, where I lived, we had two within walking distance of our house. These grocery shops contained a treasure trove of enticing, yet simple foods. Biscuits were kept on a shelf in large boxes, with a picture of a Rosella parrot on them. The variety of biscuits was vast. There were Coffee biscuits, Iced VoVo, always appealing to children with their stripes of pink icing and jam in the middle, Tic Tocs with pink or yellow clock faces, Ginger Nuts, which was my Nanna’s favourite and Orange Creams, my mum’s favourites, and Custard Creams. However, my absolute favourite were Chocolate Teddy Bear biscuits which melted in your hand on a warm day.

While on the subject of chocolate, large blocks of chocolate were also a favourite. They came with gooey, runny, but scrumptious-coloured fillings, such as raspberry, peppermint, or pineapple. Do you get the impression that I had a sweet tooth? By the way, I still do! These treats were only allowed on occasion, as my mum was very careful about my teeth and I had to clean my teeth immediately following any of these delights. (Read Lindsey-Jane’s story “The Dreaded Dentist” here.)

Biscuits were weighed and sold in crisp brown paper bags. There was something special about these bags, probably because of the contents. Sometimes the shop owner would have bags of broken biscuit pieces on the counter, which they’d sell off cheaply.

I miss our little corner shops. They are a special memory of days gone by. Things were safer and more innocent.

As well as biscuits there was a tempting array of coloured lollies in big glass jars. My favourites were Raspberries, but there were also Milk Bottles, Licorice Allsorts, Black Cats, Clinkers, Mint leaves and Freckles to name but a few.

As well as all the sweets and biscuit-y goodies, you could buy bread, cheese, milk, eggs, dried fruit, and few fresh fruits and vegetables. They also sold cleaning things such as shoe polish and shoe laces. Many-a-mum made a dash to the corner shop to buy replacement shoe laces which had frayed and broken on their child’s shoe that day. Naturally, I wasn’t the least bit interested in cleaning products or shoe laces. Biscuits and lollies were far more appealing.

My Mum felt quite confident about sending me off to the corner shop, armed with money and a small shopping list, from about the age of six. In 1957, there was little to worry about in sending a child by itself to run a couple of errands. Nothing ever happened to me; I was never accosted or run over. There were the usual loving but firm instructions from my Mum, not to talk to anyone and to always walk on the right side of the road. But I always enjoyed my little walks and doing some errands for my Mum. It’s very sad that this isn’t possible today, but you couldn’t safely send your six-year-old out alone, even to a friend’s house. I’m afraid that’s the way the world is now. I’m very glad that I was alive when things were safer and more innocent.

Old Hawthorndene Deli, Adelaide. Photo credit: Matt O’Grady (@mattogrady)

As I’ve said, we had two shops near us. One route was via Sycamore Crescent, a narrow, dirt road, lined with Hawthorn trees. In spring, the pink and white flowers were thick with bees and you could hear them humming. The air was filled with the scent of the blossoms. A small creek ran between these trees and it gurgled and splashed. In the winter, it often threatened to break its banks.

In the opposite direction, the road to the other little shop was lined with homes, gardens and orchards. It was named Chancery Lane, I guess after the lane of the same name in London, known as a location for the legal profession. The British influence was very strong back then. My Nanna one day went into a yard where some plums were growing and she very naughtily picked some. I was horrified and said, “Nanna, you can’t do that. You’ll be caught and we’ll get into trouble.” “Oh, we’ll be fine,” she said breezily. “I don’t think anyone’s home.” Just as well for us that there wasn’t.

Another advantage of the corner shops was that you could catch up on local news, such as who was having a baby, who’d just had a baby, who’d got into trouble with the police, who had died, or who was about to die. You don’t get that in supermarkets unless you run into someone you know.

I miss our little corner shops, especially when I’m in the supermarket. The little shops had a charm all their own and are a special memory of days gone by.

Featured image: Kids on bicycles in 1950s Adelaide. Photo credit: The Advertiser.

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