15 March 2024

If you were going to set much store by something, our money's on J.B. Young's

| Sally Hopman
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Old shopfront for JB Young

J.B. Young Merchants and Importers storefront in Queanbeyan, circa 1914 – it was, as the sign said, “The Live Firm”. Photo: File.

There was something about the J.B. Young stores in Queanbeyan and later throughout the new nation’s capital.

Seems they weren’t like any shops of the day: it was an event to go there, staff couldn’t do enough for customers and few people left empty-handed – because you could get things there that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

When we ran the above photograph on The Canberra Page, we were inundated with memories of the store. From people who worked there, shopped or just browsed there to renditions of the song – Young Young Young’s.

James Buchanan Young was the man with the nous to establish the first store in Queanbeyan in 1914. Ten years later, his equally canny store manager, Herbert George Colman, bought the first commercial block of land up for auction in neighbouring Canberra for about 2000 pounds. It seems they thought there’d be some potential in opening a shop that sold most everything in a brand new city that needed just about everything. The site for the first Canberra shop was secured – at Eastlake (now Kingston).

Although Mr Young retired soon after, his name was to live on. By 1971, along with the original Queanbeyan store (and another one later), Young’s thrived in Civic, Dickson, Aranda, Manuka, Curtin and Jamison.

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It also lived on because he was, his staff said, the best of bosses. From organising picnic days for them (which meant a day off work) to annual staff dances at the Albert Hall, “he was a man who cared for his staff”.

They were the sort of stores that sold everything to everyone – from lollies to bedding and most everything in between. Haberdashery counters (translation: things you needed for sewing); the latest in “brown” furniture; clothing for the modern miss – and even a cafe, in-store, at Queanbeyan.

For one reader, it was the place where he bought his first pair of jeans – “Amco or Lee, I think” – while for another, it was a special garment. “Every young teenager would buy their first bra at J.B. Young, Kingston.” And for another, it was the first place she bought her high heels.

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For the people of Canberra, it was the place to go, according to one Canberra Page poster.

“Mum, Dad and us four tagalongs would go there on a Thursday night in the late 60s to the mid-70s. Mum would buy dressing gowns, PJs, clothes for us, loved it! And we’d all fall asleep on the drive back to Weston Creek.”

Many former staff members also posted comments about what good bosses they had at the store, with most of them doing the rounds checking on not only how the day’s sales had gone, but on the well-being of staff.

“My father worked in the Queanbeyan store from the late 50s to the mid-70s. He loved working for them. Mr Colman in the Queanbeyan store was a very kind and understanding man from what I can remember.”

J.B. Young’s was to end up with 26 stores around the region – not a bad effort from its modest beginnings in Queanbeyan. The company was later bought out by Grace Bros, which in turn was bought by Myer, which in turn merged with … you get the idea.

It also ended up with the sort of reputation that money can’t buy.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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