1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Forges of Footscray

This drapery store was established in Nicholson Street, Footscray, in 1898. 'The People's Draper', Christopher Forge (1860-1912), announced his arrival with a sensational opening sale of clothing and manchester purchased from bankrupted retailers. Having lost the fortune he had made as a draper in provincial Victoria in the bank and financial crashes of the 1890s, he accumulated a second in the industrial working-class suburb of Footscray during the Federation-inspired second great industrial boom.

Operating on minimal overheads, cash purchase of stock, low profit margins and high turnover, Forge built a reputation for value for money that extended well beyond Footscray. Ruling as a benevolent autocrat from 1912, Forge's eldest son, Bert (1878-1962), instilled these principles into a generation of department heads recruited locally, trained in store and wedded to the enterprise by a striking amalgam of loyalty and self-interest. The result was 50 years of remarkable profitability, barely troubled by the depression and reaching new heights after World War II.

Forge's extraordinary sales achieved legendary status in the history of Melbourne retailing. Keith and Ron Forge, Bert's two sons, presided as joint general managers over significant expansion in the 1960s, defying the threat from chain stores and regional shopping centres. With the entry of the fourth generation into the business, Forges Pty Ltd department store had become a Melbourne institution. Dispersal of the family shareholdings led to the sale of the $50 million-turnover business in 1987, but the overstretched purchaser soon went into receivership. In a happy turn of events, Dimmeys Model Stores bought Forges in 1989, and operate in the style, and give the value, appreciated by generations of loyal customers.

John Lack