Memorial Stores

Memorial stores are shops that are no longer open but remain a part of the street, quietly anachronistic. People peer into their windows hoping to discover their stories by looking inside, and dream of walking past one day to find the doors open.

Marie Louise Salon Enmore

The pink and mauve facade of Marie Louise salon is an elegant surprise among the shops on Enmore Road, even to those who know the street well. The curved windows are like two jewelled eyes, indeed for a long time each window had hung in it a large cardboard eye with spiky black eyelashes. Now the eyes are gone and the window has a collection of soft toys, pink and purple artificial flowers and Christmas baubles. One framed photograph rests among the flowers, of a man in a police uniform. Who he is we are left to guess.

Marie Louise Salon Enmore window

The doors of Marie Louise are rarely open and it ceased to be a salon many years ago. But it doesn’t have the atmosphere of dereliction of an empty shop. The window displays change now and again, the mail is cleared out from under the door. People stop to photograph its pink exterior and peer into the windows, hoping to see inside, although curtains prevent any glimpse of the interior.

The Marie Louise salon was run by two siblings, Nola and George Mezher, who started working in the salon in the late 1950s. Both were hairdressers and became public figures in the early 1980s when they won Lotto. Most Lotto winners choose anonymity, but the Mezhers were happy to appear in the media, as they used their money to set up the Our Lady of Snows soup kitchen on the corner of Pitt Street and Eddy Avenue, below Belmore Park. Their winning Lotto numbers were derived from saints birthdays, and the unusual name of their soup kitchen, Our Lady of Snows, was that of a church in Rome. They divided their time between the salon and working at the soup kitchen and other Our Lady of Snows projects.

I would sometimes see Nola in the Our Lady of Snows van, holding up traffic while reverse parking on Enmore Road. If I saw the door to the salon open I’d go into Marie Louise for a trim. I sat in a vinyl chair with a towel pinned around my neck, my eyes wandering over the photographs and decorations that surrounded the mirrors. Photos of Nola and George, pictures from magazines, artificial flowers, giant novelty combs. The salon had pink and white candy striped panels on the walls, separate aluminium footrests under each chair, and trays and trays of curlers. I could have looked at the details endlessly. Behind me was a row of hairdryers on pedestals, their domed heads like huge snowdrops. As Nola worked on my hair a cockatoo hopped over the backs of the chairs, chattering.

A previous Marie Louise window display from 2007, photo by Alex Davies.

A previous Marie Louise window display from 2007, photo by Alex Davies

Nola died in 2009, and since that time George has tended the window display. He still does work for the Our Lady of Snows hostels, checks on the salon from time to time and visits the St Lukes op shop next door to it. Perhaps this is where some of the soft toy creatures in the window – a turtle, a butterfly, a rabbit –  have come from. I always look into the windows to see what has changed, and when there are changes it always seems a little bit magical, like the objects have rearranged themselves.

Koles Universal

Koles Foto on Liverpool Street in Ashfield is painted Kodak yellow and incorporates two stores, one for manchester, the other photography equipment and supplies. The stores are mirror images of each other and were run by a husband and wife, the Koles. She ran the manchester store, and he the photography. After his wife’s death Mr Koles has continued to arrange the window display of her store, with floral towels and patterned dishcloths neatly pegged to stands. Inside her store the shelves are stacked neatly with balls of wool, and a cardboard cutout of a Japanese lady in a Kimono stands behind the door, smiling out into the street.

Koles towels

Mr Koles has continued to open his photography store regularly, although I haven’t seen it open for a while now. A few times I went in to talk to him. He told me, exactly to the day, how long it had been since his wife died, and he looked so sad at that moment I reached out and clasped his hand. They were Harbin Russians and had emigrated to Australia many decades ago – he had shortened their surname from four syllables to one to make it easier for Australians to pronounce. Koles is also similar to Kodak, the other name that dominates the signs on the store. Kodak too was an invented name, chosen by George Eastman because he liked the letter K.

Koles interior

Peering into Mr Koles’ side of the store the desk is neatly, but actively arranged, an open phone book on the counter and calendars open to different dates and years on the wall behind it. A small, day to a page calendar is open to today’s date, the 17th of January, although from two years ago. The store has cabinets full of old photographic equipment, photo frames and containers with packets of photographs in them, neatly indexed, still waiting for people to come to collect them. At the back of the store is a set-up for portraits, with a long green curtain and big metal spotlights. A white screen has been set up in front of the curtain, for passport photos. All this rests, still and perfect, and I can stand at the window and skim my eyes over it, noticing something different each time

Memorial stores are both memorials to people as well as the past. They act as the street’s memory. Like Now and Then photos, in which old photographs are held up so they match up with their locations in the present, these old, time capsule stores make it easier to imagine how the rest of the street must once have looked, with signs painted on the awnings above and meticulously arranged display windows. Koles is like a porthole to a different kind of Ashfield, a 1970s place with women in bright dresses, a 1950s place with men in suits and hats.

Koles Closed

Looking beyond Koles, the street switches back to the present day, the many restaurants with Shanghai in their names – New Shanghai, Shanghai Night, Shanghai Food House, Taste of Shanghai – the Ashfield mall and the square in front of it where people sit under trees smoking, shopping bags puddled at their feet. Liverpool busy with traffic and people awaiting the safe moment to jaywalk across it.

Knispel Now

Parramatta Road has many empty and abandoned shops, but only one memorial store, Knispel Hardware in Leichhardt. For a while the store was closed but with all the stock inside intact, the products still on the shelves, the painted signs advertising Taubman’s paints hanging from the ceiling. The two front display windows were arranged with a collection of objects, artificial plants, tool catalogues, a large lightbulb with the legend KEYS CUT painted on it. A long time ago I went into Knispel while it was still operating to get keys cut and felt a kind of nervous luck that such an old store still existed and I could visit it. I still have the key I got cut there on my keyring, even though the key is to a house I left many years ago.

Knispel interior

Through the window when the shopfittings and the stock were still there, 2006.

Knispel window then

The window display c. 2006

Then all the contents were cleared out, the signs taken down from the ceiling and stacked against the sides of the room, and the floorboards swept. The display windows were cleared and only a few objects were left there, some artificial flowers and a red Eveready CLOSED sign leaning up against a wooden box. The windows had become a memorial for the woman who ran the store who died in 2009. Taped to the inside of the glass were photographs of her behind the counter, as a bride, with her family, and as an elderly lady. One of the pieces of paper had her name in large letters: Lois Kyle (Peach), and the legend “sadly missed”.

Knispel exterior lucas

In 2009, photo by Lucas Ihlein

Photo by Lucas Ihlein

Photo by Lucas Ihlein

Years have passed since the memorial for Lois and most of the photographs have been taken down. The artificial flowers remain, and a large, dusty plastic Santa has been added, perhaps for the Christmas just gone. His red clothes are faded and he holds a bunch of balloons that would light up if his power cord was plugged in. One black and white photograph remains, pinned to the back wall of the display window, of Lois in the store leaning against the counter, wearing an apron. The windows are covered in graffiti scrawls and boarded up where they have been smashed, and the doorway has piles of trash blown in from the street. Everything is covered with the fine, black, Parramatta Road soot that covers everything in its vicinity.

Knispel santa

inside knispel

For all the decay of the exterior, peering in through the door of Knispel the interior of the store has an eerie beauty. The light of the overcast day comes through the skylight and the windows at the back and illuminates the floorboards and the few items of furniture still left inside. It looks peaceful in there.

17 Comments on “Memorial Stores”

  1. Peter Doyle says:

    I brought a broom at Knispel’s years and years ago. The lady there gave me a talking to about how to look after a broom so that the bristles didn’t bend up. They still had 1960s 0r 70s era illos on the walls of Homes Beautiful, made that way with Dulux Paint. Also a very good hardware store.

    • Anne-Maree Prentice says:

      So funny to see this comment, I’ve just been googling images and low and behold… I’ve been a friend of the family for decades, a million stories in the big city. I’d posted on LS about this woman because of a roasting pan.

      • Amber says:

        I’d be very interested in contacting the family in regards to the shop. If you have any details I’d appreciate them?

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        Sorry Amber, I don’t have their contact details.

      • Anne-Maree Prentice says:

        R U a Real Estate Agent Amber? or do you have a genuine interest in this family?Prompt & HONEST reply would be appreciated as I will be staying with number one daughter in the near future & reporting on any vulture activity regarding property.

      • Amber says:

        No, I am not a real estate agent.

      • Amber says:

        Anne-Maree – no, I am not a real estate agent. If I were, I would not make a public enquiry, as they have easy access to title deeds. I can, however, see that a public enquiry as raised an exceptionally suspicious response. This is very far from my intention so will attempt other means. Thank you for your concern.

  2. I brought a big pair of sissors there when we moved in around the corner
    from Mrs Knispel in about 1974 her husband had died suddenly and she took over. When I got home I realised that I had not paid for the sissors $27.00 and I went back to pay. We became firm friends and over the years she let us try many products for free. She was a wonderful person, I moved away and lost contact and was suprised to see the shop in such a state.

    • Anne-Maree Prentice says:

      This woman is Lois “Peach” Kyle. The Knispel name was her uncle (I think). I first met her in 1976 & became friends with the whole family as we were neighbours and her children used to work in the shop too. She took great pride in her window displays and used to plant hilarious things for people to spot, the young ones would often go one better and change it around or place various ‘sight gags’ to see if and when she would notice. Hard to get anything past Peach ~ the place was often a circus, the whole family outdoing one another with customer service and jokes. Peach was still working at the shop until c. 2007 at age 80something. She died in July 2009 ~ adored by thousands, she is one of Sydney’s greatest dames.

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        I love that she would put funny things in the window! I remember the window displays from when the shop was open and appreciated their attention to detail. Thank you for your comment, it brings the store to life again.

  3. Anne-Maree Prentice says:

    Amber, I was being over-protective about a family that is very dear to me & still need their privacy. Interest in property in Sydney raises many alarm bells. Because the shop is on main road it is public domain in the truest sense, however the curiosity of strangers can cause upset behind closed doors & is likely to remain so for some time.

    • Anne-Maree Prentice says:

      “Some things are simple, some things takes ages”

      Dear Vanessa ~ your work on The Knispel Hardware shop has now been seen, very recently, by a family member who has never been online & therefore knew nothing about the stories generated by memories of Peach by others. After so many years have passed by, the images & stories have finally landed in a place where they are deeply appreciated.

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        That’s wonderful to hear Anne-Maree, I’m happy to hear the stories are appreciated by Peach’s family. Good things take time!

  4. […] for me to see Marie Louise for sale, but it was even more so as a few weeks earlier another of the “memorial stores” I wrote about in a previous post had signs in the […]

  5. Tony Russo Quartet says:

    My old man used to buy his film stock from Koles in the mid 70s. I was always intrigued by the kodak yellow and all the cameras on show but tbh throughout time and now residing in Melbourne this store had escaped my consciousness until after coming across your blog today.

    Am saddened to hear that Marie Loiuse is for sale. I lived in newtown/enmore towards the late 90s and early 00s and had to walk past the saloon on my way home nearly every day. I used to get annoyed at the picture she had of John Howard sticking his tongue out at a picture of a cat doing the same! i only once entered the salon and was greeted by who i assume was Nola dressed to the nines with a bee hive! The place had all these old woman getting looked after, would have been her old cliental from back in the day!

    Have you written anywhere about the ghost who walks from the olympia cafe on parramatta road? As a kid we always went in there after a movie and the place was so cold and lit up with a few fluros and it didnt help that he was spooky looking! but he was always friendly with a smile and dad made sure he got his Scorched Peanut Bar for the way home and we the milk ways or smarties! Then in my early 20s when i lived of Johnston St i went in there a few times and there he was sitting in the corner watching time pass. The decor was the same as it had been when it first opened up with just a few modern chocolate bars on display but faded from the sun. But they all sat, from memory, on some shiny red velvet material and he had an a board sign with “Enjoy a later supper after the movie..” in late 50s type.

    I heard he is still around and he still watches the world and time pass by except the cinema was knocked down a decade ago.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Yes, Mr Olympia is still around – I pop in occasionally to buy a drink. I have written about the Olympia, in my book Strawberry Hills Forever, which came out in 2007. There’s a fair bit about the Olympia online these days, even a facebook group for Olympia milk bar fans. When I first went past the Olympia in the 1990s I was sure it wouldn’t be around much longer, it seemed so anachronistic. That it is still around and still the same in 2013 hardly seems real. The cinema is long gone and it’s apartments now, and he does still watch the world go by from behind the counter.
      Thanks for commenting and sharing your stories – all of these shops were magical in their own way.

  6. […] a thickening coat of dust.  The premises became as Vanessa Berry of Mirror Sydney describes it a “Memorial Store”- an important local icon and a landmark for the popular retro, vintage and rockabilly subcultures […]

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