Saturday, August 18, 2007


I hope you will indulge me a little trip down memory lane, while I dwell on some "recollections" about the corner shop.
The corner store figured large in my childhood. Actually, in Todman Avenue, a block and a half from our flat (which would be called a unit in this day and age), there was a group of three shops on the corner. The first was a Butcher's, and the third was a little grocery store. Neither of these interested me much. It was Nick Kakos' shop, in the middle, that I loved.
Nick and his wife Helen were Greek, as were many people in that area. It would be hard to say what sort of a shop it was......perhaps a modern day convenience store.
You entered through a screen door, and the counter went down one side and along the back. The back counter was the "Milk Bar" section. There were a couple of small tables and chairs where you could eat an ice cream Sundae, or drink a Milkshake. I must admit that my pocketmoney did not usually run to these luxuries. But I could usually manage an iceblock. These were simple affairs. In those days, many Milk bars actually made their own. They were rectangular blocks made from frozen Soft drink (Shelley's brand, of course.) The ice block would be wrapped in a square of newspaper, which was pretty soggy by the time you had finished. I can remember buying my first Paddle Pop at Nick's shop - what a novelty. I really loved the Caramel ones.
You could buy icecream cones of course, but larger blocks came in cardboard containers. If we had visitors to tea, Mum would open a tin of peaches, and I would be sent down to Nick's shop at the very last minute to buy a carton of Street's Ice Cream. We had no freezer to store it.
Beside the Milk Bar area was the fruit and vegetable counter, with trays of beans, carrots and potatoes, apples, oranges and bananas. There was usually a big pumpkin, and a large sharp knife to cut off wedges. Everything was weighed in the hanging scales. It was here I had my one and only shoplifting experience. One time, while waiting to be served, I could not resist the temptation to grab a couple of raw beans to chew. Nick saw me, and I made a quick escape. I had to wait some weeks until I thought he may have forgotten the incident!
Next to the Green grocery area was a large glass case, with all the lollies. What patience the shopkeepers had in those days as children stood and made important decisions about how to spend their pennies. Chocolate bullets were 8 a penny, and those tiny cachou sweets were 16 a penny! A penny could also buy you a couple of "conversation lollies", three mint leaves, a couple of aniseed balls, a musk stick, a licorice stick, a "cobber" or a "clinker", a freckle, a rainbow ball or a "gobstopper." Twopence would buy you a longer licorice strap, or a "slate pencil" which was a grey aniseed flavoured stick which would actually make marks on the pavement.
There were two kinds of sherbert. The smaller bag, costing 3d. was nicer, but the larger bag (5d.) with a raspberry flavoured sherbert actually had a thick "straw" made of licorice.
For 3d you could buy a "Curl", which was a chocolate covered bar of chewy toffee. Fourpence would buy you a Choo-choo bar, a sticky black bar of chewy sticky licorice flavoured toffee. They would last for ages. A packet of Wrigley's chewing gum, with four candy-coated pellets, could be bought for 2d.. and you could choose from 3 flavours - spearmint, P.K. and Juicy Fruit. I never did find out what P.K. stood for! Fruit Tingles cost 3d for a roll, and Lifesavers (mainly just peppermint in those days) cost 4d.
Along the back shelf, there were the larger packets of sweets, like Minties, Jaffas, Fantales and Columbines. My friend and I usually had to pool our finances to afford one of these. At the back of the shop also were the big tins of Arnotts and Peak Freans biscuits, which were always sold loose by the quarter and half pound in those days. Nick also sold a few other odds and ends, like combs and stationery and headache powders (like Bex and Vincents' A.P.C.) My friend was always being sent to buy Vincents' powders for her mum...I think she took them as a preventative measure!

Funnily enough I have no memories of ever being in the shop with my parents. They bought their weekly groceries and fruit and veges from shops down in the main shopping centre. They would leave a list, and pick it up each Friday. Nick Kakos' was the sort of shop that Mum sent the kids to, to pick up something at the last minute. It was also the sort of place you met other kids after school.

Outside Nick's shop was the tram terminus, so there was a wooden seat where the kids would linger while they enjoyed their goodies. Shopkeepers did not do much about window dressing in those days, although many used to display those tantalising "dummy" blocks of Cadbury's chocolate. But I do recall a time when there was a handwritten notice in Nick's window, appealing for donations to help earthquake victims back in Greece.
I suspect that Nick and Helen Kakos may actually have owned the freehold to all three shops, and the land behind. In later years, they built a two storey house on the vacant block behind the shops. At that time, all the two storey buildings around that area were blocks of flats. We all said that he must have made a fortune in his business!
As they got older, they brought a nephew and his wife out from Greece, and installed him in the house next door on the other side. Gradually he took over the work in the shop, and it just didn't seem the same without Nick there.
Local corner stores, such an important part of our life and culture in those days, have largely disappeared. Today's children are far more familiar with supermarkets and Malls. And the "temptations" are far more exciting than a couple of fresh beans. But the opportunity to make those careful and considered purchases from the lolly counter certainly taught us the value of money, and the importance of making the right choices before we handed our pennies over.

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