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Retailing in Melbourne gained official recognition when eight market commissioners were elected in 1841 from a roll of local voters. The commissioners established the Western Market, which became the principal place for selling fresh food. At that time Melbourne's population was 4479, and the colony's was 20 416. Many goods were transported from Melbourne for consumption at pastoral settlements.

In 1854, three years after the gold discoveries, Victoria's population was about 284 000, of which three-quarters was anything but pastoral, and it had rural townships in which to engage in retail trade. Several retail entrepreneurs who later moved to Melbourne to establish prominent department stores started in rural townships, particularly in the goldfields region: Myer (Bendigo), Ball & Welch (Castlemaine) and Foy (Bendigo and Spring Creek).

Suburban retailing increased towards the end of the 1880s as greater Melbourne's population approached 280 000. Tram lines became the single most influential factor in locating suburban shops. Trams made frequent stops within easy view of and access to shop frontages, generating the growth of long shopping strips. The chief examples are Chapel Street in Prahran, Smith Street in Collingwood and Fitzroy, Sydney Road in Brunswick and Coburg, High Street in Northcote, and Bridge Road and Swan Street in Richmond. Lesser examples are Glenferrie Road, Malvern, and Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick.

The radial railway and tram systems brought metropolitan shoppers to Central Melbourne. Flinders Street had the Mutual Store (1872) and Ball & Welch (1896). The retailing heart moved northward when Sidney Myer developed his department store in Bourke Street in 1911, two blocks north of the Mutual Store and one block north of the Block in Collins Street. Melbourne's retail spine was thus formed, with London Stores and Leviathan flanking the Bourke Street corners and a network of elegant arcades running southwards to Collins Street. Thirteen years after Myer's arrival, George Coles expanded his discount and variety store chain by opening one in Melbourne. By 1955 Coles had two large stores in the retail spine, and a third one in Bourke Street on the site of Mantons department store. Just west of Mantons was the Foy & Gibson department store on the north-east corner of Swanston and Bourke streets.

The 1930s depression and wartime austerity allowed little change in retail infrastructure. After the war, however, there was enormous pent-up consumer demand and technological capacity for change in retailing techniques. In grocery retailing there had been ventures into limited self-service. Air-servicemen who had trained in Canada returned with knowledge of how self-service worked and influenced the development of Haggers self-service grocer shop in Bridge Road, Richmond, which was featured in the Melray grocery chain's Australian Grocergram in 1946 as a 'selfservice story that cannot be ignored'. By this time many grocers were functioning as retail chains or in buying groups, securing advantageous wholesaling prices. Self-service achieved savings at the retail-distribution end, and cellophane packaging and Visqueen polythene, made by ICIANZ (1954), facilitated self-selection. Impulse sales, promoted by packaging design and eye-level shelving, were often discussed in retailing journals. Wrigley's chewing gum and Kitchen's soaps pioneered this trend with simple things such as display racks on grocers' counters where customers were served.

Pent-up technological capacity was also manifested in the first General Motors-Holden car in 1948. In that year there were 78 motor cars per 1000 Australians, and in ten years there were 164. The actual number of cars tripled. Postwar housing expanded quickly, filling up new suburbs and creating new local shopping centres. Retail journals frequently pinpointed traffic congestion and the lack of parking as disincentives for central-city shopping. Parking meters were installed in Bourke Street in April 1955. Some traders welcomed meters for their intended purpose of inducing parking turnover, but they were a turn-off for many shoppers, especially those who incurred a fine.

The increased motor traffic and the expanding suburbs persuaded Kenneth Myer that his company should copy American trends, which he studied in person. In April 1958, Myer Emporium Ltd bought 12 ha on the Princes Highway near Oakleigh. It was a greenfield site, almost unique in being adjacent to settled suburbia with rising incomes and car ownership, and well located for a drive-in shopping centre. Allan and Starke's Chermside drive-in had opened in Brisbane (1957), and Melbourne's Heidelberg Mall (Housing Commission, Bell Street) had begun during the Olympic year in 1956, but Myer's Chadstone Shopping Centre, which opened in October 1960, was ten times Chermside's capital cost.

By 1960 there were a minuscule 41 000 m2 of drive-in shopping mall floor space in metropolitan Melbourne. By 1970 there were 287 000 m2, and by 1980 there were 981 000 m2, or 24% of total metropolitan retail floor space. Changes in suburban retailing are illustrated by figures for selected local government areas. The inner suburbs' share of retailing shrank, and middle and outer suburbia grew markedly.

Percentage of metropolitan* retail sales
Local government area194819621980
Melbourne (incl. Carlton etc.)46.7127.0912.46
Box Hill0.771.851.52
*The metropolitan area's population grew by 63% in 1948-62, by 36% in 1962-80, and by 121% in 1948-80.
Source: Retail censuses, Australian Bureau of Statistics

The growth of motor car ownership led to growth in petrol-selling stations, reaching a peak Australia-wide figure of 22 000 in 1966. Between 1975 and 1993, however, the national figure fell from 16 300 to 9200 stations, but average petrol sales per station nearly quadrupled. The change from petrol/car-service stations to convenience store/petrol stations reflected the decreasing frequency of car servicing and the desire of proprietors to diversify from low-profit petrol sales into more profitable mixed businesses.

Independent grocers formed buying groups for wholesale supplies to compete with grocery chains such as Moran & Cato, Crofts, National and Nancarrows. Electrical retailers, facing competition from department stores and chains such as Palmers and Vealls, did likewise. The Retravision (Radio Electrical and Television Retailer) group was formed in 1960 by 53 Melbourne electrical retailers. Danks hardware withdrew from manufacturing and became a wholesaler to independent hardware retailers under the Home and Thrifty Link banners. Other buying groups include Mensland and Chemmart.

Nearly every important suburban shopping centre is anchored by a supermarket. Supermarket retailing is intensely competitive, particularly in groceries. Freestanding supermarkets have sought higher profit margins by selling fresh food and operating in-house butcheries and bakeries. Suburban greengrocers and butchers mostly survive only where a supermarket is limited to groceries or where they supply specialty foods. Independent and franchised bakeries occupy a fresh-food niche.

Many suburban shopping strips are oversupplied with retail premises, exhibiting semi- and non-retail uses of otherwise vacant shops. The worst affected strips are long ones with a drive-in centre at their rear, such as High Street in Northcote. Some small neighbourhood shopping nodes have disappeared, including Ascot Vale (Station Street), Newlands and Alamein, the latter two being postwar shopping clusters. The main reason has been the location of supermarkets, closely followed by the development of shopping malls. A few unique shopping strips prosper, usually because a supermarket faces the main street, or the supermarket is only a 'mini market', or there are wellpatronised shops that offer special products, such as cafés and specialist grocery, clothing and antique stores. Examples of the latter are Chapel Street, Prahran, and Maling Road, Canterbury.

Both city and suburban shopping centres housed car dealers and furniture dealers in the 1948 census. The last of these closed when the Bryson showroom became Noah's Hotel (c. 1980) after car lots opened along highways. Car City, on Maroondah Highway, Ringwood, has over 30 dealers and illustrates the synergy of locating similar retailers together and the use of relatively cheap space away from traditional retailing areas. Just west of Car City is Melbourne's largest bulky-goods shopping strip, where factory outlets and furniture, whitegoods and homeware showrooms run for more than 2 km. Shopping for these items is only convenient by car. Another bulky-goods place is opposite, not in, the Northland shopping mall in Preston.

Many suburban shopping areas would suffer more acutely from an oversupply of retail premises but for the growth of take-away foods and dining out. Milk bars, cafés and fish-and-chips shops were the main fast-food categories in early postwar Melbourne. Kentucky Fried Chicken (1968), Pizza Hut (1971) and McDonald's (1971) have each carved out a significant market share. Nationally, take-away food was 34.2% of food-service purchases in 1994, compared with 28.2% for cafés and restaurants.

During the postwar years the dominant trends were the increased share of State retailing transacted in metropolitan Melbourne and the decreased proportion transacted in Central Melbourne. The change in Central Melbourne was mirrored in the decline of department stores and shops selling hardware, furniture and electrical goods. Comparing 1948 and 1992 figures, retail sales in metropolitan Melbourne as a proportion of Victorian retail sales increased from 66% to 74%, while retail sales in the City of Melbourne as a proportion of the metropolis as a whole declined from 47% to 10%.

Before 1971 retail-trading hours in Victoria were carefully regulated. A notable example was butchers' shops, where exploitation of apprentices had been answered by legislated opening and closing times. On 26 November 1971, the first dent in regulation occurred when Friday-night trading, abolished in 1946, was reintroduced for some shops. During the 1970s various classes of shops were allowed to trade on weekends, and shops in markets and tourist areas were given extended hours. In 1991 Sunday trading began, and within five years retail-trading hours were deregulated.

These changes put pressure on small and family shops, which had to endure long working hours or engage part-time staff. Continuous supervision was still a problem. To some extent small businesses are helped if they are in a franchised chain, where the burden of management and market surveys can be reduced by having a competent franchisor. Franchising has followed retailing into service-provision, particularly for take-away foods, car washes, travel agents and home and garden maintenance. Other areas of service retailing, not greatly franchised but strongly present in shopping areas, include hair, beauty and pet care. These activities often use shops that might otherwise be unoccupied in traditional shopping strips. Retail banking, on the other hand, moved out of separately branded premises and into petrol stations, supermarkets and 'holes in walls' (automatic teller machines) during the 1990s.

John Young And Peter Spearritt