Sunday, October 2, 2011
Sydney's Bon Marche
Two brothers looked at the burgeoning buildings of Sydney and dreamed of creating a great department store which would rival Bon Marche in Paris. They were sure that they could do it because their family background was in retail and they had owned a successful drapery store in Melbourne.
The old, iconic building, which was once Mark Foy's department store, is now a court but the distinctive architecture remains. The turretted mansard roof and the birght terracotta trim advertising 'corsets', 'gloves' and 'hosiery' is still visible to those interested in the history of Sydney.
The Foy brothers, Francis and Mark, opened their first store in Sydney in 1884. It was another drapery business and relatively small. In 1908, however, they caused a sensation by opening a three-storey store near Hyde Park. Soon the three storeys weren't enough and the store grew to six storeys. They built other buildings to house the many departments, including furniture, hardware, and carpets. They even owned a woollen mill.
The great Mark Foy's was eventually the only store to have four frontages - on Elizabeth, Liverpool, Castlereigh, and Goulbourn streets. Paul Keating once criticised people by saying that: "They had more front than Mark Foy's!"
The department store was the first Australian store to have an escalator. People still have fond memories of the elegant galleries, the grand ballroom with its marble, and the restaurant. Women and girls especially loved to shop in the store which was highly regarded as a centre of fashion and had glamorous glass cabinets and wooden ceilings.
Unfortunately, the days of Mark Foy's ended in 1980 when Grace Brothers bought the store. Lovers of old department stores can only look at the building and dream of shopping in elegance.