Allan & Stark

Window shopping at Chermside Shopping Centre, ca.1957 Window shopping at Chermside Shopping Centre, ca.1957

Who: James Allan (1856–1938) and Robert Stark (1857–1934), two drapers who worked in partnership as Allan & Stark to establish some very successful fashion retailing around Brisbane. They continued as managing directors and primary shareholders for some time after the family business became a limited company in 1893.

Advertisement for evening gowns from Allan and Stark, 1900
Advertisement for evening gowns from Allan and Stark, 1900. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 170837

What: The drapery-cum-department store established their trade from the late-19th century on a comprehensive range of moderately-priced fashion goods and services, including imported dress fabrics, men’s and women’s clothing, dressmaking, tailoring, and millinery. Their business later expanded to include a travel bureau and an in-store art gallery that featured the works of prominent local artists such as Melville Haysom. In the mid-20th century, they became the department store that, for better of worse, would change retail in Australia forever.

Allan and Stark drapery store, Queen Street, ca. 1910
Allan and Stark drapery store, Queen Street, ca. 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 82929

Where: Allan & Stark opened their first drapery business in South Brisbane in 1882. They quickly grew after they re-established in Queen Street in 1895—a location they operated into the late-20th century, branded as ‘the smarter end of Queen Street’. For a short time (1898–1901) they had a second business in Toowoomba purchased from fellow drapers, Alexander & Munro, but they sold their share to focus on their Queen Street store. It wasn’t until 1957 that they ventured outside of the CBD once more, when they became the first Queensland department store to take on the suburban market, with their ‘Drive-in Shopping Centre’ opening in Brisbane’s Chermside.

Allan and Stark in Queen Street illuminated for the Warana Festival, 1963. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260804. http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/28558
Allan and Stark in Queen Street illuminated for the Warana Festival, 1963. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260804.

When: The Allan & Stark brand was well-known in Queensland for close to ninety years, from 1882 until 1970, when they were rebadged as Myer. The company had sold to Myer decades previous in 1959. Up until 1988, Myer’s flagship Queensland department store continued to trade on the original Allan & Stark city site.

Customers at the counter of Allan and Stark's menswear department, Brisbane, ca. 1956
Customers at the counter of Allan and Stark’s menswear department, Brisbane, ca. 1956. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42962

Why: While Allan & Stark started out almost identically to Queensland department store competitors like McWhirters, Pigotts, Finneys, and T. C. Beirne, what they did in the 1950s set them apart. In fact, it’s fair to say they introduced a modern retail revolution to Queensland that would spell the beginning of the end for many of their rivals.

Workmen removing decorations from the Allan and Stark building after the Royal Tour in 1954
Workmen removing decorations from the Allan and Stark building after the Royal Tour in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 193583

Having successfully traded in Brisbane for seven decades with their CBD store at the forefront of their operation, the company made the decision to branch out into suburban retail. After abandoning plans to develop in Tingalpa, they purchased a large block of land in Chermside, another outer suburb of Brisbane that had recently been connected by tram. Where suburban shoppers had previously taken the tram to accessible inner city areas, like Fortitude Valley, Woolloongabba, or the CBD itself, they were now keen to make the most of an increasingly affordable, convenient, and fashionable form of transport: cars.

Publicity for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957
Publicity for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 106012

Allan & Stark’s ‘Drive-In Shopping Centre’ in Chermside was an unprecedented hit, with police required to control the crowd of 15,000 at its opening, and much of Australia’s press declaring it a triumph of modern retailing and suburban town planning. It combined their own store with those of smaller retailers, following an American-style of mall development. It was the first of its kind not only in Queensland, but also Australia. Melbourne and Sydney had announced plans for similar drive-in shopping centres in the 1950s but were much slower to deliver.

Opening announcement for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957
Opening announcement for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 108973

The centre was spacious, modern, and air-conditioned, and the parking was ample. With efficient self-service, a diversity of options under one roof, and goods delivered to the car, it’s not surprising that Brisbane shoppers—particularly women—embraced the concept of shopping in air-conditioned comfort and leisure. In the process, they abandoned once-thriving shopping districts such as Fortitude Valley.

Bus terminal at Drive-In Shopping Centre Chermside, ca. 1957
Bus terminal at Drive-In Shopping Centre Chermside, ca. 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119384

Such was the success of this new model that ‘drive-in shopping centres’ steadily sprung up in surrounding Brisbane suburbs, followed by the major regional centres. Toombul and Indooropilly were amongst some of the major centres that followed, and they continue to trade today. Though many drive-in shopping centres of this period around Australia have subsequently been resold and renovated, the essential layout and concept remains mostly intact. In fact, our current understanding of a department store shopping complex is quite faithful to this 1950s design.

Interior of Allan and Stark Chermside, ca. 1957
Interior of Allan and Stark Chermside, ca. 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119383

Though Allan & Stark were the progenitors of the modern drive-in centres, they weren’t the long-term benefactors of this model. Cashing in on its early success, they sold the Chermside centre, along with the entire Allan & Stark company, to Myer Emporium in 1959—only two years after the drive-in centre was built.

New Drive-In Shopping Centre at Chermside, 1957
New Drive-In Shopping Centre at Chermside, 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119386

Westfield later bought the Chermside store in 1996, and continue to operate it, along with a number of suburban shopping centres around Australia. Myer continued trading at Allan & Stark’s CBD premises, leaning on the former’s name and Queensland-owned reputation until it finally dropped the Allan & Stark brand in 1970, as it had done for its other Queensland department store conquest, McWhirters.

(left) Allan & Stark promoted as 'Your Myer Store in Queen St.', The Courier Mail, 16 Jan 1963; (centre) Myer advertises sales across its McWhirters and Allan & Stark stores, The Courier Mail, 31 Jan 1963; (right) Allan & Stark's Kenneth Pirrie ad in 1967 doesn't mention Myer, The Courier Mail, 28 Feb 1967
(left) Allan & Stark promoted as ‘Your Myer Store in Queen St.’, The Courier Mail, 16 Jan 1963; (centre) Myer advertises sales across its McWhirters and Allan & Stark stores, The Courier Mail, 31 Jan 1963; (right) Allan & Stark’s Kenneth Pirrie ad in 1967 doesn’t mention Myer, The Courier Mail, 28 Feb 1967. State Library of Queensland Microfilm collection.

References

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.