The milk bar

Andrew Norton writes a short piece in praise of milk bars after he hears his local one is closing down:

It was a slow way to make money, but by working 12-15 hour days, 7 days a week milk bars were a source of upward mobility for many migrant families, first the Italians and Greeks, and more recently for Asian families like the one who ran my local milk bar. Their son studied computer science at the U of M. Usually they lived behind or above the shop which allowed some family life between customers.

Their main commercial assets were that they were within walking distance and they were friendly and familiar. As you can see from the picture, there was no slick presentation. Beneath some graffiti to the left of this picture there is still a sign advertising The Sun, which was last sold inside on 5 October 1990, merging with The Herald to the become the Herald-Sun the next day. Partly obscured in the corner of the window is still an ad for Marlboro cigarettes. How this escaped the attention of the health police I have no idea.

Most milk bars couldn’t survive competition from supermarkets, 7-11s and service station convenience outlets (which my next-door neighbour in that childhood street started at Shell). The milk bar in my childhood street went many years ago. Though there are three service stations, two supermarkets and a 7-11 nearby in Carlton or Fitzroy, my current milk bar had survived – probably because many locals, like me, would rather do business with people we see regularly than the passing parade of students at a chain outlet.

I’d like to add my own sentiments here. My first experience of Australian commerce and cuisine (so to speak) when my family first moved here in 1990 was getting milk shakes and fish and chips from a milk bar owned by a Greek family in the local Seven Hills shops (I have no idea if it’s still there). To this day I still associate millk bars with a quick nice fry up and milkshakes.

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3 Responses to “The milk bar”

  1. Michael Fisk Says:

    I’ve noticed that East Asian migrants often get involved in the bakery business, and probably for the same reasons of easy upward mobility. But the hours are much worse for obvious reasons, so the industry is best-suited to people who can survive with six hours sleep or less per night.

  2. graemebird Says:

    If we had several decades of policies that advantaged high-rise. And on top of that the proper congestion charging, for road finance. And thirdly the virtual end to zoning …… Then that combination could lead to many more people making a fist of the corner store.

    The corner store under those circumstances could be a starter business for someone moving onto better things. Since maybe you’ve got mum dad and the kids monitoring it around the clock. But that doesn’t mean that they could not be working on other things.

    We must work hard to ferrit out any bias against the small starter-business. Ferrit them out and send such biases to the fires with extreme prejudice.

    Its one thing to swear off active persecution of the big corporates. But supposing we have rightly sworn off this. And yet at every turn we are letting subtle but devastating (at least when in action over several decades) disadvantages to the smaller and startup outfit. Along with other subtle influences this will create a rigged market at the bottom end as so many more people will be in the proletarian pool then need be. And it will create a rigged market at the top end with less people having comprehensive executive experience at a young age.

    And I believe this is what indeed has happened. The culmination of insipid biases and slants against the startup business and in favour of bigshoteria …… Well I think we can finally see that these small but persistent effects have rigged the labour market at both ends.

  3. Yobbo Says:

    If they could sell alcohol, like they can in every other country in the world, they wouldn’t be going out of business so quickly.

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