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Christmas Shopping in the 50 and 60s

Remember when shops opened their doors for trading at 9am each day, Monday to Friday and closed at 5.30pm in the afternoon? Weekend trading was strictly limited from 9am to 11.30am, there was no trading on the Sabbath or on public holidays and there was no late night trading at all.

All the big department stores, including Birks, John Martins, Foy and Gibsons (later Cox Foys), Harris Scarfes, Cravens, Miller Andersons, Peoplestores and Moores were all in the city. There were no large suburban shopping centres back then and so to do any serious Christmas shopping, it was a trip into the city by tram, bus or train.

I can recall my mother and grandmother, dressing in hats and gloves on a very warm December day and taking the family of four children on the tram into the city for a day of shopping. This would include the annual visit to the Magic Cave at John Martins, a chance to sit on Father Christmas’ knee to tell him what we wanted him to bring us, lunch in Cole’s cafeteria and after a full and long day out, a tram home to my aunt’s house in Wayville.

The streets would be crowded. Rundle Street in particular was full of pedestrians with the footpaths packed and in many cases overflowing onto the road. I seem to recall in later years that Rundle and Grenfell were turned into one way streets in an effort to help traffic flow. Every manner of transport was used from bicycles to cars, trucks, lorries and delivery vans mingled with trolley buses and the odd horse and cart as people went about the business of trading in the centre of the city.

The department stores always hired extra staff at Christmas as this was before the self-service era, so there was always someone to serve you no matter how busy the store was. What was really great in those days also was that all the department stores had their own ‘character’ and offered a very different shopping experience, unlike today where most of the big stores work to a business model and all offer a similar shopping experience.

Photo from the State Library of SA. It was a strong competition each year to see which of the big stores could come up with the best Christmas decorations.

Photo from the State Library of SA. Rundle Street 1950, it was a strong competition each year to see which of the big stores could come up with the best Christmas decorations.

If mum had to go off and do a little bit of ‘Santa’ shopping, Grandma might take the kids up onto the roof ‘fun fair’ at Cox Foys for a ride on the train or the big Ferris wheel. If it was particularly hot, the family might go to the Savoy newsreel theatrette for an hour to cool down in the air conditioning and watch the latest news on the big screen.

Many of the stores depicted the nativity scene in their window and it was a strong competition each year to see which of the big stores could come up with the best Christmas decorations. I have a feeling John Martins won that one most years as they prided themselves as being ‘the Christmas store’ year in and year out!

Maybe I look at Christmas shopping as an adult in a completely different way but it seems a lot of the magic has disappeared from the act of shopping at Christmas time. As a kid it was always such a huge adventure, these days it’s just another chore.

What are your own memories of Christmas shopping as a kid growing up in Adelaide?

3 Responses to Christmas Shopping in the 50 and 60s

  1. danny bocchino December 9, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I agree with your sentiments, Bob. And maybe, you’re not alone.

    There had been dramatic changes in metro and city of Adelaide since 1960’s for the loss of the magic of Xmas time.

    If only TIME STOOD STILL…and the economic craziness just disappear oof the face of this Earth.

    From Danny Bocchino

  2. paul s March 2, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    i remember arriving at outer harbour on 20 th december 1963 as a 10 pound pom and moving into the flats at Para Hills as a 8 year old. christmas that year was pretty sparce as we were still finding our feet and we didnt know a soul in australia ,just the 5 of us. we found he Para Hills shops which had a woolies and a peoplestores ,a few other shops and that was it. boy was it exiting to us small kids to walk into woolies and see all the things on the shelves considering where we came from in Manchester back home. The shops closed at 5 and i think they closed for a half day in the week but i cant remember which day .sat they closed at 12 no sundays boy was life so simple then. some times i wish we could go back in time That xmas we had no presents or a tree but we didnt mind because we were here and looking forward to our new life .

  3. Steve Wray, now in England September 1, 2017 at 1:46 am #

    It was very exciting to go to Rundle Street in the 1950s and 1960s. As someone else posted, there were no sizeable suburban shopping areas back then, but it didn’t matter, because it was very easy to get into town using public transport or by car.

    We lived in Warradale, and we mainly went into town by train. The train fares were cheap and the trains ran at least once every half hour. The downtown station is very near to Rundle Street.

    I much preferred that to such present horrors as the Marion Shopping Center, which do not have anywhere near the range of stores that Rundle Street had.

    Back then, we sometimes went to Glenelg on Saturday mornings, but that was not much compared with Rundle Street. No comparison really. Glenelg was, to us, mainly important for having two large movie theaters (Odeon and Ozone) which had a lot of first-run movies.

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