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Since 1911 in Bourke Street, no store has ever had 'more front than Myer's.' Migrating to Australia from Russia in 1899, Sidney Myer (Simcha Baevski) joined his brother Elcon, working in a clothing business in Flinders Lane before setting out as hawkers. In late 1900 they established a small drapery shop in Bendigo. After the partnership was dissolved Sidney expanded into Melbourne in 1911, purchasing the business of Bourke Street draper Wright & Neil in 1911. His radical sales methods, including openly displayed merchandise, brought further success and in 1914 he opened the eight-storey Myer Emporium, modelled on San Francisco's 'Emporium'. Myer factories produced a large range of Myer-branded goods. A mail order service, established in Bendigo, was expanded, and Myer's departments sold merchandise ranging from haute couture to hardware, furniture and fine china.

The store prospered despite Sidney's long periods of absence in America. Returning permanently to Australia midway through the depression, Sidney initiated a huge building campaign, stimulating employment, and increasing the size and stature of his business. Sidney Myer was as renowned for his philanthropy as for his business acumen, with his total benefactions exceeding £100 000, including gifts to the University of Melbourne, the Shrine of Remembrance fund and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, establishing a free concert series which continues in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Sidney Myer pledged a total of £22 000 to pay for the construction, by unemployed men, of sections of the Yarra Boulevard at Prahran and Warrandyte during 1931-34. Less well known is his donation of US$7300 to help finance aviators Charles Kingsford Smith's and Charles Ulm's pioneering first trans-Pacific flight in 1928.

After Sidney's sudden death in 1934, his nephew Norman Myer led the company through further expansion, pioneering the move to suburban shopping in the 1950s. This trend was continued by Ken Myer, Sidney's eldest son, who succeeded Norman in 1956 and with co-managing director, A.H. Tolley, engineered the opening of a number of Myer shopping malls. The flagship store remained Melbourne's Myer Emporium which, promising 'value and friendly service', included a hair-dressing salon, restaurants, dentists, a health centre, and the famous bargain basement. The Mural Dining Hall provided a restful haven from the rigors of shopping but the store is most famous for its annual Myer Christmas windows.

Having acquired Wright & Neil (1911), Robertson & Moffatt (1922), Stephens & Sons (1925), Thomas Webb & Sons (1930), W.H. Rocke & Co. Pty Ltd (1932), Saks Florist (1938), and Incley's Fashion House (1942), the business expanded into the other Australian States from the 1950s. In 1985 it was acquired by G.J. Coles & Co. Ltd and in 1986 became part of the merged Coles Myer group.

Stella M. Barber

Barber, Stella, Sidney Myer, a life, a legacy, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, 2004. Details
Marshall, Alan, The gay provider: The Myer story, F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1961. Details