THE FOLLOWING FROM VARIOUS BRISBANE WEBSITES WHICH MENTION
The Valley's tinsel-decked eateries are a world away from the big stores of not so very long ago, which weaved their own special magic at Christmas. People flocked to the Valley from far and wide every Christmas according to Elsma Klein, who managed a soft drink shop on the corner of Brunswick and Wickham Streets in the 1920s. Mrs Klein said they came for the festive atmosphere just as much as to shop. She said her most vivid recollections were the Christmas trees lining both sides of Brunswick Street, the carol singing and the beautifully decorated
McWhirters windows. "I remember the mechanical Father Christmas playing the organ on the McWhirters building. You could hear the music all over the Valley," she said. Amy Bowman, assistant manager of Valley Plaza Bingo, also made the annual pilgrimage to the Valley at Christmas. "I always took my children to
McWhirters," she said. "You had to push your way through the crowds just to see the windows. "They were lovely.
There was a different story in each window with mechanically operated figures." She said the children also loved McWhirters toyland, which had a miniature street between the toys. A McWhirters Myer Emporium Courier-Mail advert on Christmas Eve, 1958 highlighted one of toyland's attractions: "Rooftop Christmas Show. A big free show on the roof. Clowns, monkeys, trick dogs . . . all the fun of the fair." Mrs Bowman said another popular event on the Christmas calendar was the parade of people in costumes and floats down Brunswick Street. "You had to get there early as it would be six people deep. "Our children used to sit in the gutter for hours waiting for the parade to begin." She said that visiting the Valley at Christmas was a family tradition in the heyday of the department stores.
In the days when suburban stores and shopping malls were a distant rumour the Valley's reputation as the place to shop was legendary. Trams once rattled down
Brunswick Street Mall depositing eager bargain hunters from all over Brisbane at the doorsteps of the 'big stores' - TC Beirnes,
McWhirters and Overells. These department stores dominated retailing outside the city centre for over half a century. They began trading as small drapery stores in the 1890s and grew into vast emporiums by the 1920s, their stately facades reflecting the confidence and exuberance of the period.
In reminiscing about the history of his store in the late 1940s, TC Beirne said that rivalry between
McWhirters and Beirnes did more to make the Valley Brisbane's main shopping centre than any other single factor.
Customers were attracted by the high quality of goods, variety of merchandise and moderate prices.
They could also get to the stores easily. There was a tramway and rail system running through the Valley heart by the 1890s which helped to make it a thriving shopping centre.
It was the thing to do to dress up in hat and gloves and take the train or tram to the Valley to shop and have lunch or afternoon tea at one of the 'big stores'.
Long standing New Farm resident William Stanley said: "Today you can buy anything you want but in those days you were looked after when you entered the store."
He said that shop walkers greeted customers on arrival and, on request, personally guided them through the store where they could be served by assistants while seated.
The grandeur and authority of the big stores began to crumble by the late 1950s with the shrinking residential population, the convenience of regional shopping centres and the increasing use of private transport.
The singular identity of these family businesses faded when their premises were taken over by large conglomerates -
McWhirters by the Myer Emporium in 1955, Overells by Waltons in 1956 and
TC Beirnes by David Jones in 1961. The closure of these stores in subsequent years marked the end of an era in the Valley's retail history.
Today, Valley retailers have created new merchandising opportunities to lure shoppers through the doors of the former department stores.
McWhirters was given a new lease of life when it began trading as a festive market in 1989. The refurbished T C Beirne building will provide a range of leisure retailing attractions under the one roof when it opens in the middle of the year.
These buildings stand as landmarks to a bygone era in department store retailing. Their claim on our cultural life is as great as other venerable institutions which make up the cityscape - the theatre, hotel and church.