It was all in the mix

• Lora and Frances Canestrini inside mixed business at 367 Oxford Street Leederville, 1949 (COV PHO0832)

TODAY, corner shops – also known as milk bars or delis – have all but vanished from our suburban streets.

Before the advent of supermarkets in the 1950s and 1960s, corner shops were located on the corner of almost every street.

They sold groceries such as fruit, vegetables, milk and newspapers. 

From the 1930s, some corner shops took inspiration from the American diner, expanded their trade to sell milkshakes and soda fountains and adopted the name of milk bars. 

Until the 1980s, there were hundreds of corner shops, mixed businesses and milk bars in the Perth area. 

Every suburb in Vincent had their share of small shops, which were often along main roads. 

One business was O’Grady’s grocery shop at 367 Oxford Street, which is across from the Oxford Hotel and is now a fitness gym.

Martha and William O’Grady moved from Collie after World War II with the hope of giving their children a better future with more job opportunities in Perth. 

They bought a small mixed business on the corner of Anzac Road and Oxford Street and lived at the back of the shop with their family from 1946 to 1956.

Daughter Lorraine recalled the long hours her mother put into the business: 

“(Mum) was a tireless worker in the shop. Then when the shop shut, she would be doing up the till and sorting through the money and paying bills. She did the business part of it really. Three days a week, Dad would head off at 5.30am and go to the Metropolitan Markets in Wellington Street. He would buy all the green groceries – lettuce, tomatoes and all the fruit – to bring back and line up in the shop window. We had dairy, even pharmaceuticals in those days. You could buy a packet of Bex Powders, Aspro or liniments, tobacco, cigarettes, ice cream, cold meats, boxes of biscuits… everything.”

Mixed businesses were also popular among migrants as a pathway to economic progress and self-sufficiency in a new land. 

They were also important avenues for women’s independence during a time when work options were more limited for women. 

Two doors down from the O’Grady’s at 363 Oxford Street, Lorenza ‘Lora’ Dell’Acqua (nee Canestrini) and her sister Frances ran a mixed business from 1944 to 1951.

The sisters moved to Perth from the mid-west where they had lived with their Italian migrant parents in Wiluna and Yalgoo. 

They worked from 8am to 8pm daily and serviced the many Italian families in the area, particularly on Sundays when families would stop in on their way to St Mary’s church or nearby church hall. 

Despite their proximity to O’Grady’s shop, Ms Canestrini recalls the support and friendship between the neighbouring businesses. 

“Mrs O’Grady was a beautiful person. She had the shop on the corner to us and we looked up to her as a mother figure. We got on well together and we didn’t cut each other’s throats because they had a bigger shop and we had a little shop. It was twice as big as ours, maybe three times. We concentrated more on the green groceries.”

To learn more about mixed businesses in the Vincent area, or if you have information you would like to share, visit the City of Vincent Local History Centre or visit

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