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Georges was Melbourne's most fashionable department store. Founded by brothers William and Alfred George, the store's motto of Quod facimus, Valde facimus (What we do, We do well) exemplified a philosophy of exclusive goods and meticulous service. On 20 April 1880 the Age newspaper first carried an advertisement for 'George and George', and in 1883 the brothers moved to four-storey premises at 11-17 Collins Street East. In 1888 the proposed Block Arcade development forced Georges to look for other premises, and after a disastrous fire in September 1889, the business moved to its famous location at 162-168 Collins Street (originally 89 Collins Street East).

Designed by architects John Grainger and Charles D'Ebro and built on land owned by Scots' Church, the new building had been constructed in classical revival style in 1883 by David Mitchell for the Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd. After that company went bankrupt, land boom speculator and politician B.J. Fink had the building extended in 1887 through to Little Collins Street, the alterations designed by architect David Christopher Askew. Cox Brothers took over Georges from 1960-66, David Jones Ltd buying the business in 1981.

By 1901 Georges was a 'favoured spot with most of the smartest people in Melbourne'. Advertised as the 'Universal Provider', it sold all manner of goods from drapery and laces to carpets and coal. It was a pioneer in Australian retailing, being one of the first stores to introduce lifts, a cash discount system, and a bargain basement 'on the American principle'.

From the late 1880s the store held Christmas amusements, an annual Punch and Judy show, fashion displays, and in the 1890s boasted a Cyclotorium where women could purchase and learn to ride bicycles. The late 1940s Georges Gallery and the Invitation Art Prize from the early 1960s supported artistic achievement across the State, prize winners including John Olsen and Fred Williams.

Georges closed its city and suburban stores in October 1995 after 115 years, despite a number of rescue bids. Either lauded or loathed as the symbol of snobbery and the Melbourne establishment, its Regency Room, shop window display and distinctive brown shopping bags had become icons of genteel shopping and epitomised the exclusive image of Collins Street. The store's ultimate failure may be attributed to moves by David Jones to reduce the store's buying and management functions, the absence of convenient parking, and competition from other superstores and suburban boutiques.

Andrew May

Dunstan, Keith, The store on the hill, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1979. Details