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Shopping strip holds ground

Thursday, 28th March, 2013

The shopping strip in the 1930s The shopping strip in the 1930s

By Paul Armstrong

One of the everlasting shopping zones in Broken Hill is the Gypsum Street precinct on the corner of Wills Street Railwaytown.

From the very early days shops had occupied places on the long stretch of Gypsum Street.

Railwaytown had always been popular amongst traders from the 1880s due to the fact that it was the main entry wagon road into the town. There were blacksmiths, grocers, butchers and all manner of shops plying their trade to the passing customers and the general public.

One such major trader was The Service Stores which took up about 90 per cent of the position along Gypsum Street.

William Roberts who worked with other stores in Argent Street decided to grow his own style of grocery business and occupied a corner store facing Gypsum Street around 1919.

He placed the word "Service" in his store name to imply a greater service and quality to the shoppers.

When he began the Service Store he had one assistant and himself. Ten years later the store had grown significantly and in 1929 he had 15 assistants and had many departments in the shop that took up nearly the entire frontage from Wills Street to the laneway.

He had done so well that he now had over 500 regular customers on his books by 1930.

Sadly, in 1931 a safe breaker decided to blow the store safe and caused damage and hardship for a period.

Mr Roberts raised above all that and in the mid 1930s his store had their own cricket team and played against the City Council team at Silverton on occasions. He also promoted the "Queen of Retail" in the town and over 600 people attended a social evening at the Palaise De Dance.

Over time, he sponsored picnics and social gatherings for his staff and other business houses to join together for entertainment.

By the early 1950s his store carried a huge range of items and furniture but in 1952 a policeman noticed a thief and fired shots at him as he skulked around the side of the store. It created a sensation at that time.

Because of the popularity of the shop a second store was opened at 353 Oxide Street.

The businesses thrived for many decades before a change in shopping occurred and eventually the stores were dissolved into our past.

Sadly, in December of 1953 Mr William Roberts senior passed away at age 67. At thattime he was living at 214 Wills Street and was highly regarded in our community.

He had been an executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce and Life Member and had played trombone in the City Band for many years.

He was also a foundation member of the Musicians club, a member of the Sturt Club, in the Master Grocers' Association, Umberumberka Masonic Lodge and the BH Masonic Club.

He was survived by his wife, three sons and four daughters.

Also in later years on the corner was shop keeper Mr Hooper who had the magnificent nick name of "Upapenny" Hooper, he was a tough businessman but well respected storekeeper for many years.

Today the shops are varied in the Gypsum Street area, with the famous Red Robin Deli being a featured business over the decades.

As we shop it is sometimes worthwhile remembering those who built our businesses and the social importance of the stores history and culture.

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