Banana Joe’s

It is busy in Marrickville, even now with the lockdown measures in operation. On Illawarra Road it seems little different to other Saturdays, although people are wearing face-masks and trying to keep as much distance from each other as the pavement will allow, and there’s an undercurrent of tension that’s the mood of these pandemic times. However there is one Marrickville character who has remained as relaxed as ever.

Leaning back in her hammock, between two steel palm trees, the Banana Joes banana has the same starry-eyed look of unconcern that she has worn for decades, although she has, in recent years, lost the cocktail glass she used to hold aloft. Rain or shine she leans back, staring up into the sky, on her own tropical island of the awning.

The reclining banana is the mascot of Banana Joes, the independent supermarket that has, since 1984, traded from this shop on Illawarra Road. It’s a family business, run by Joe Khouri, and started out as a fruit market chain, with a number of Sydney suburban stores in Ashfield, St Peters and Campsie. It was fairly short-lived as a chain, and the focus has long been the Marrickville store.

Original Banana Joe’s logo. Source: Facebook.

I’d heard rumours that it was closing, but nothing seemed to happen for a while, until the recent announcement that the Easter weekend will be the store’s last. Among the signs on the door and the posters of weekly specials on pickles and giant beans, is a green Woolworths notice, announcing that a “fresh new store is coming soon”, news that no one would be greeting with much enthusiasm. For Banana Joes is a Marrickville shopping landmark, known for its fresh food, capacious canvas shopping bags, slow lift, and reclining steel banana. Just saying its name made going to the supermarket sound interesting.

From the rooftop carpark there’s a view out over Marrickville. I’m not the only person who is looking out over it: a man and his small daughter are standing at the corner, peering down, pointing out familiar places from a new aspect. Maybe this is something they often do, or maybe, in these days of isolation, when one of the few sanctioned reasons for going outside is to shop, any safe opportunity for amusement is worth taking.

Between the carpark and the store an old, slow lift conveys the shoppers who are patient enough to wait for it. Inside the metal interior of the lift posters of the weekly specials are displayed in frames on the wall. This gives it something of the look of a miniature art gallery, inviting scrutiny of the loaves of bread or cans of four-bean-mix or ground coffee that are featured inside. For a time, some years ago, there had been written in black marker on the door the words “smoocher’s lift”: it is obviously special to many people in different ways.

 

On its last weekend the shelves in Banana Joes are a little barer than usual, but the community noticeboard is still cluttered with the usual leaflets for services like the continental philosophy group, knife-sharpening, and meditation courses. Beside it is a crate inside which are stacked empty fruit cartons printed with mascots like top-hat-wearing avocadoes and smiling oranges. People queue up in distanced lines, waiting to buy their last round of Banana Joes groceries.

I’ll miss Banana Joes, but at least the word is that the banana on the awning is set to remain. In years to come it will confuse newcomers to Marrickville, who might wonder at its significance. But the locals will know, and remember.

BJ - 1 (6)


5 Comments on “Banana Joe’s”

  1. Jane Scott says:

    Can’t recall if you subscribe to this? Anyway, here’s another Marrickville one…there goes the neighbourhood

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Ah Vanessa, you’ve marked a significant moment for us. Kaite and I just got back from our likely last ever visit to Banana Joe’s. We were making a lasagna you see and had forgotten the parmesan cheese. Well we ducked up there, decided to get a few extra things (had to settle for tasty cheese) but couldn’t find the eggs. A store attendant helped us out by confirming that there were no eggs. I said I’d miss Banana Joe’s and he said “me too”. I got the impression he won’t be sticking around to work at Woolworths.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      I’ll miss it a lot – and yes, feel for the staff who are losing their jobs when it closes. I’m glad you were able to have a final visit even if you came away eggless!

  3. Ash says:

    I’m sad. Another Woolies. There is a full Woolies just down the same road. I regularly went in to Banana Joe’s. They stocked some biscuits that I couldn’t find anywhere else. And I liked that I wasn’t shopping in one of the big chains.

    Post gentrification blandness is starting to seep in to Marrickville. Gentrification may preserve the heritage of the street scapes but it sucks the soul out of the place. A place like Balmain is now full of snooty residents and I feel no real desire to go there, even though I love it’s history.

    I hope my beloved but overlooked and misunderstood Canterbury area remains as it is. Even with over development it just retains an interesting aspect.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      I’m with you on the biscuits Ash – where will I get my bokkenpootjes now? It’s a real shame to lose BJs, another somewhere turning into an anywhere. May Canterbury be safe from such conversions.


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