FAMILY BUSINESS: Dave Clark's store, River Street, Ballina, in the 1930s.
FAMILY BUSINESS: Dave Clark's store, River Street, Ballina, in the 1930s.

HISTORY: Friendly helpers made shopping a treat

SHOPPING for groceries is becoming more and more irksome as the years roll by - partly because one is getting older and partly because things are always changing in these shops!

Where are the old corner shops, or the old grocery stores which hired the helpers (staff) to help the customers? Some of our current smaller shops are friendly enough, but there are still challenges!

Today you usually have to go through a barrier to get into the shop, then you have to find everything for yourself.

There are so many things from which to choose that you sometimes get confused, and the item you want is not always there anyway, or it is on the topmost shelf just out of reach.

If you are lucky you will see a handsome young male who may come to your rescue, or perhaps an equally helpful young woman. In the bigger stores the staff are nowhere to be seen, of course, unless they are clogging up an aisle packing and re-packing shelves.

The smaller stores at least usually have friendly staff around who will come to your aid. Then you have to negotiate the check-out - stand in a queue perhaps and, in the larger stores there are those offensive "help-yourself" check-outs. It is all too confusing!

Remember the stores where there were friendly staff behind the counter and there were chairs for the customers to sit and relax while they gave the order?

If the customer had children, there were sweets or nice biscuits offered to keep the little dears quiet while Mum or Dad got the job done.

The friendly assistant had a little docket book and wrote down all the items and then gave a copy to the customer to take home. The order might be packed as the items were written in the book - packed in a nice strong cardboard box and later delivered to your back door - and the customer probably had a monthly account so there was no need to fumble in one's purse or pocket.

Items themselves always seemed fresher in those days. Biscuits came in large tins and were weighed out as per the customer's request. Sugar, flour and other items might also come that way - and of course lollies for the kids.

You could also buy sugar, flour and other items in bulk - sugar in lovely hessian bags which could be used for other purposes such as aprons or doormats, and flour in lovely linen bags.

Fruit and vegetables sometimes were sold by the grocer but there were also greengrocers and of course butchers and bakers. It was a great day's outing to "go to the shops" or "go to town for the day" depending on whether you lived in the town or on a property outside the town.

Ballina had several of these grocery stores at one time: Yees (later Yums), Garretts (Arthur had a fine singing voice), Sharpes (Miss Sharpe ran a clothing and drapery department in the store) and of course Clarks.

Old Dave Clark was a Scotsman, a fine old individual who had been mayor of Ballina on a number of occasions. There was also Young Dave, his son.

He was a nice, quiet, friendly chap who always had a smile when you entered the store.

He had two sisters, Jessie and Jean. Jessie had a popular hairdresser's salon nearby. Both girls were married and their husbands worked for "the firm".

Jessie's husband, Ron Fenwick, looked after the growing hardware section of the store. Jean's husband, Jack Cordery, later went into the Clark's real estate agency when it opened further up the street.

Another very popular member of staff was Ernie McOmish who had been a flight lieutenant in the RAAF during the war.

Yes, it was a pleasure to shop in Ballina in those days.

Prepared by Geoff & Margaret Henderson for Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore.

Phone: 02 6621 9993. Email:

Hours: Museum - Monday-Friday 10am-4pm; Research Room - Monday & Wednesday 10am-4pm.

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