Shopping in 1950s-1970s

The experience of shopping in Beecroft village changed greatly in the years after WW11.

Prior to these changes there were a few stores along Beecroft Road. In Wongala Crescent (then Railway Crescent) the most notable stores were a butchery, Sparks bootmaking shop, an adjacent milkbar and two pharmacies, one on each corner of Hannah Street, opposite the railway station. There was a cluster of four shops on the northside of Hannah Street and two shops on the south side. The most prominent building in the village was the Bank of New South Wales on the corner of Hannah Street and Beecroft Road, opposite the Post Office. Houses still existed on Hannah Street between the commercial buildings, including the home and medical practice of Dr Terry and the home and surgery of dentist Ozzie Seale. The village stores provided essential foodstuffs and services. An exception was a small commercial lending library, now the site of a clothing boutique. In the 1940s the relatively new Liberal Party of Australia opened a small office and meeting room in Railway Crescent. After meetings, the Secretary, Mr Allnutt, was known to distribute cakes left over from the previous night’s supper, to selected local children.

The dramatic rise in the birthrate after the war led to a demand across Sydney for new housing. Few homes were built during the 1930s depression and the war years. Now, in the 1950s, a building boom began. Families with young children bought houses in the new subdivisions in Beecroft and Beecroft primary school’s enrolment grew to 684 at the end of 1959. New classroom blocks were constructed in the 1960s, but before that one class met in the School of Arts.

When in 1955 Dick Stuut opened a ladies’ hairdressing salon above his barbershop in Hannah Street it presaged change. In 1960 a Pennant Hills builder Jack Ramsay purchased a chunk of real estate in the heart of the village. The site included Ozzie Seale’s home and dentistry practice in Hannah Street and land owned by the Lutherborough family facing Railway Crescent. This ran back some 350 feet (about 90 metres) to the rear of the Seale property and included land behind houses in Chapman Avenue. Thus was created an L-shaped block. By 1962 Ramsay had built and opened an arcade of shops, with considerable parking accessed from Railway Crescent. While the new businesses in the Beecroft Arcade included a second butchery, a third pharmacy, a new fruit and vegetable business (Napoli’s), a Warman’s supermarket, later bought out by Flemings, and a cakeshop/bakery, other businesses in the small suburban shopping centre were novel. Val Kertess and her daughter Lydia opened a clothing store selling stylish women’s clothes (Valli’s) and Chris Fletcher opened a men’s wear store in the arcade which later moved to Hannah Street. It is now a restaurant. There was a delicatessen near the Hannah Street entry to the Arcade and a hardware store located close to the carpark.

The new businesses operated successfully and as the 1960s progressed more were established that catered specifically to families.  In 1964 a young apprentice butcher Robert Butler borrowed from the bank and opened a pet shop in the arcade, with a cool room. He specialized in selling pet food. His customers included local kennels and catteries as well as the numerous family pets. Small animals and birds displayed in the window attracted children. Butler operated the business for some 35 years.

In 1966 Corinne McBurney, resident in Chapman Avenue, persuaded her husband Jack that it would be a good idea to establish a store catering to the growing number of music teachers and their students. Her store, The Students Nook, sold sheet music, acoustic guitars, records and some musical instruments plus stationery and toys. The business expanded and the McBurneys rented the adjacent shop (Beecroft Music Centre). Jack McBurney recalls that they kept a list of music teachers for the information of parents and when a new teacher, Margaret Rowland, asked to be listed it took only six months until she begged them not to recommend any new pupils, as she was fully booked. The McBurneys were encouraged by their success to rent the old bakery house facing Railway Crescent as a venue for teaching acoustic guitar. They opened this new business in 1970, with a number of teachers offering tuition and operated all three businesses until Corinne’s health suffered and they sold the businesses in 1975. They also supplied guitar strings to the owner of the deli, Shirley Cottrell, for cutting cheeses.

Increased car ownership ensured the success of a Shell service station, operated by Max McGill on Beecroft Road north of the Bank of New South Wales. It always included a workshop where mechanics repaired every variety of vehicle. Another service station was located south of the post office, now the BPO restaurant and bar. Both service stations have closed, as well as the small vehicle repair shop on Wongala Crescent. Cheltenham also had a tiny general store with a single petrol pump on the corner of Cheltenham Road and Beecroft Road.

The essentially conservative nature of the area was demonstrated when Claude Fay, the proprietor of the main hotel in Hornsby, bought the two-storey building on the corner of Beecroft Road and Mary Street, housing a Foodlands grocery, with the aim of converting it to a liquor outlet. A protest meeting was held at the school. Parents feared public drunkenness would be witnessed by their children and the meeting became quite acrimonious. When a local solicitor, a resident in Mary Street, spoke in support of Mr Fay’s application, another resident asked the solicitor whether it was true that he had listed his property for sale.

The new owners of Beecroft Arcade, a Singaporean group with interests in New Guinea, decided to expand the Arcade by demolishing the old bakery house on Wongala Crescent and adding additional shops plus car parking. The site of the bakery became The Children’s Library, a new building constructed by the Hornsby Shire Council who made their acquisition of this land a condition of the expanded development. The site is now occupied by a podiatry clinic.

The growth of Beecroft village included further new sites and expansion of shops along a sloping site in Wongala Crescent south of Sparks Shoes and the milk bar, now a ladies’ boutique. Included in this group was a Franklins supermarket, later relocated to The Module. Sparks is Beecroft’s longest established business, still operated by members of the same family. It had begun as a shoe repair business in the 1930s, a time when wearers had serviceable shoes repaired until entirely worn out. In the post-war period, however, there was a considerable demand for shoes for the growing number of children in the district and the business changed to a retail shoe store.

On Hannah Street a new purpose-built Commonwealth Bank building appeared. Stores selling luxury goods began to appear: Polly Poppins in Beecroft Arcade, selling quality homewares and gifts, and in Hannah Street, Kenwick Galleries, which specialized in selling handmade pottery and art and craft works. Moongold Chocolates opened next to the bank (now the site is occupied by The Capella and Chldren’s Bookshops). On Easter Saturdays the queue of buyers for Easter eggs formed along Hannah Street.

In 1971, Robin Morrow and her mother, Beryl Matthews, both Beecroft residents, opened The Children’s Bookshop, located initially in Wongala Crescent in an old timber building said to have been a blacksmith’s workshop. A horse trough remained outside until the 1960s. The business later transferred to Hannah Street, adjacent to the Stuut’s Hair Salon. As school libraries expanded in the 1970s major clients were teacher librarians in the many district schools. It was the first specialised children’s bookshop in Sydney.

In the period from the 1950s to the 1970s the character of Beecroft’s shopping centre became steadily different from those in nearby suburbs. Although The Treasure House in Wongala Crescent, specializing in antique and estate jewellery and china, closed some years ago jewellery and gift stores remain. An apartment complex and shops occupy the former site of Beecroft’s charming nursery, The Garden Gate. However, the village still offers browsers an interesting experience.

In 2012 the small shopping centre has a large number of coffee shops, several dress shops, airdressers and beauty salons, as well as two florist shops and a range of restaurants.

Jack McBurney says that Beecroft is “a place where you could build personal goodwill in business through good service.”

Do you have memories of living in Beecroft? Please contact us.

Lesley Goldberg and Catherine Bartho