Our disappearing delis

THIS week’s tale from Vincent’s Local History Centre is Lucy Hair’s account of our town’s dwindling delis. 

The Lake Deli at 181 Anzac Road, constructed around 1938-39 and still standing today.

 THE local deli has been an essential element in the Australian landscape for many decades. 

Also referred to as a corner store and more commonly referred to as milk bars in other states, many Western Australians have fond memories of their local deli. 

Several delis still operate in Mount Hawthorn today, but their numbers have declined significantly over the last decade or two. Delicatessens (delis) evolved from milk bars, a concept based on American diners around the 1930s. 

In the Mount Hawthorn area, Les Jacks developed the former Wallace Confectionery and Tea Rooms into a milk bar around 1945. 

Mim Hodge remembers that many cyclists stopped at Les Jacks for milkshakes and other drinks after training runs. 

There were many corner stores selling groceries, such as those along Scarborough Beach Road, and several more dotted throughout the suburb. 

As was common at the time, these buildings had the shopfront on the corner and the adjoining residence behind. 

It is likely that many of these stores may have started selling milkshakes and drinks modelled on the success of milk bars. 

Over time, the range of products at corner stores diversified to accommodate changing fashions and tastes. 

Post WWII migration patterns resulted in different cultural influences, particularly from Greek and Italian immigrants. 

There were many delis/corner stores owned and operated by Greek and Italian families in Perth in the years after WWII. 

The local deli became a social hub as well as where you purchased essential groceries. 

In the late 20th century, the deli was a popular place for neighbourhood children to meet and spend their pocket money on drinks and lollies. 

In the last decades of the 20th century, local delis had to compete with supermarkets for trade. 

The emergence of stores attached to petrol stations became another place to purchase convenience items. 

Retailing trading hours began to change across Australia from the late 1980s.

These changes had a significant impact on local delis. 

The introduction of Sunday trading hours in Western Australia in 2012 made it even more difficult for small retail shops like delis to compete against larger businesses. 

Effectively, the number of delis within local communities has been in continual decline since the last part of the 20th century.

It is possible to demonstrate the decline of delis based on my personal experience with reference to delis in Mount Hawthorn. 

In 1997, I moved to a rented house in Anzac Road, Mount Hawthorn. 

The deli on the corner of Coogee Street and Anzac Road was our local and handy for the weekend papers or when we ran out of milk and other essentials. 

We moved to Killarney Street later that year and the Superdeli (on Scarborough Beach Road near Killarney Street) became our new local.

After almost two years renting, we purchased a house in Dunedin Street near the intersection of Green Street and lived there until 2018.

There was a deli in Shakespeare Street, but I do not remember having just one ‘local’. 

There were several within easy walking distance. 

Walking around the suburb, I noticed several buildings that were obviously former delis. As a professional historian working in the heritage industry at the time, I often wondered about the former owners and the shops they operated. 

Delis were part of my childhood growing up in Perth in the 1980s. 

I remember buying lollies with pocket money or money earned by filling an ice cream bucket with weeds! 

I worked at my local deli in Nedlands while studying at university in the early 1990s. 

Some of the delis began disappearing in our early years in Mount Hawthorn and this is possibly why I took photos of some of them in 1999.

The five photos I took over 20 years ago could be considered a random sample of delis in Mt Hawthorn just prior to 2000. The photographs showed four operating delis and one shop converted for a private residence. 

In 2021, only one of these delis still exists – the Lake Deli at 181 Anzac Road…

You can read all of Lucy’s Local History Awards entry Disappearing Delis online at: https://librarycatalogue.vincent.wa.gov.au/client/en_GB/search/asset/2509/0

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