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Ocean Grove: Corner Store

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Following are the 'Analysis' and 'Statement of Significance' sections from The Ocean Grove Corner Store : Conservation Plan, Stage One by Susie Zada. There are too many references for this section to cite here, however all statements and conclusions are supported by documentary and oral evidence which can be found in the above publication. Most published references are identified in the Early History of Ocean Grove.

In 7 September 1888, following the subdivision of the Ocean Grove land, Martin Guille became the first owner of Lot 155 on the corner of The Terrace and Hodgson Street - the location of the Ocean Grove 'Corner Store'.

Several references have been found to a Martin or Marcus Guille in Ocean Grove and the evidence shows that this was the same person. Martin was born c. 1819 in Sark in the Channel Islands. He first appeared in Geelong in 1854 where he had three children and then spent time in Horsham and the western districts before settling in Ocean Grove in 1888. By then he was almost seventy and his children and grand children were living in Melbourne.

Guille's StoreHe was a contractor and carpenter before starting the General Store in 1892. In 1888 had won the tender to erect the first church in Ocean Grove and by December 1889 he and Neilson had erected most of the houses in Ocean Grove.

Age and ill-health affected Martin in the 1890s. In 1894 he was injured in an accident near his home, in 1897 he resigned as Church Keeper due to failing health and in 1898 his insolvency records showed that sickness was one of the contributing factors to his inability to pay his debts.

His main outstanding debt at the time was for £44.16.6 owing to Messrs Thomas Peters & Co of Geelong for timber purchased in 1890. This timber was either for houses he was erecting in Ocean Grove or for the General Store which was operating by 1893. Another outstanding debt for £20.1.6 was for groceries to Alexander Wallace and Company.

Guille’s list of assets identified only wearing apparel valued at £2.0.0 and there was no mention of any shop, house or goods. Obviously bankruptcy, age and ill-health did not stop Martin from operating his General Store. He continued to pay his rates and did not sell the store until December 1904. He died in Melbourne in 1912 at the age of 93.

Foyster's storeJane Scott was the owner of the General Store for a little over a year, and Robert George Foyster took over at the beginning of 1906. Foyster and his family came to Ocean Grove from Echuca at the turn of the century. By this time, James Barnett Menzies had already been in Ocean Grove for about eight years and had established a store in opposition to Guille’s General Store.

R. G. Foyster’s daughter May Ethel married J.B. Menzies’ son Frederick John in 1914, and they ran the store following Robert Foyster’s death 1916. The first major changes to the General Store occurred during the Menzies period which continued for almost 30 years.

The store and house were extended to the west and south and a second storey was added. Tea Rooms were opened and the Post Office was moved to the General Store in 1935.

May’s brother Walter Foyster had started a bus service to Geelong and Frederick Menzies took it over and expanded the service. He added a petrol bowser outside the store and offered a car battery recharging service.

If Menzies’ didn’t stock something a customer wanted, Fred would purchase it from Geelong on his weekly trips for supplies. The General Store became the gathering centre for the community, providing a huge range of goods, postal services, newspapers, petrol, and local information. Fred was also a key member of the Ocean Grove Progress Association.

In 1943 the property was sold to Phillip and Marion Vertigan. For the next seven years, the operators of the General Store and Post Office were the Vertigans, Jimmy Biggins, and finally Bronmeyer and Ellis.

1950 saw the arrival of Jack and Evelyn Skinner to Ocean Grove. When they purchased the General Store, there were only two other shops in The Terrace and the permanent population was only about 160.

Over the next 30 years both the Store and Ocean Grove underwent major changes and growth. As with previous owners, the Skinners lived in the combined store and house. The store was expanded to the western boundary of Lot 155 providing a Drapery, Newsagency, Footwear, Groceries and General Store in the complex. A new building was erected by the Skinners immediately south of the store and leased to the Post Office.

As with previous owners and operators of the General Store, the Skinners were prominent citizens of Ocean Grove, running the Post Office and telephone service, and heavily involved in the local community. Jack Skinner was one of the founders and president of the Ocean Grove Football Club, a life member of the Football Club and the local fire brigade, and an active member of the Progress Association.

Holidaymakers staying at The Chalet (previously the Coffee Palace) were regular customers of Skinners. It was perhaps this combination which resulted in the main shopping centre of Ocean Grove being located the length of The Terrace from Presidents Avenue to Hodgson Street. The Chalet was at the western end of this precinct and the General Store at the eastern end. The amount of "traffic" between the two premises would have offered ready-made customers to other shops opening in this stretch of The Terrace.

Jack and Evelyn Skinner still own Lot 155 on the corner of The Terrace and Hodgson Street, but the General Store has again experienced major change. It is now split into two separate shops; Rossy’s supermarket in the western half, and the Ocean Grove Newsagency in the eastern half. The corner store is no longer a traditional General Store, but it is still a major focal point and provider of community information.

The evidence gathered while researching the Ocean Grove corner store has provided a wonderful insight into the families associated with the shop and its key role in the lives of residents and visitors to Ocean Grove. More importantly, although the oldest floorplans found to this stage are dated 1976, the documented, oral and physical evidence gathered have provided enough information to reconstruct the building from its original form to the present day.

The Ocean Grove corner store is significant because :

Many of the structural features of the original building exist today. Although the surfaces of these features have been replaced or covered over, the features themselves are still visible. These include walls, windows, doors and chimney.

The original builder and owner was deeply involved in the establishment of the first settlement of Ocean Grove. He built the first church and most of the houses in the first two years of the settlement. He was also Church Keeper for the Methodist Church in a predominantly Methodist community.

There were four major families who were owners and operators of the corner store; the Guille, Foyster, Menzies and Skinner families. Each of these families were heavily involved in their local community, providing essential services as well as being active in community groups.

The corner store has been a focal point for residents and visitors to Ocean Grove and was probably responsible for the location of the Ocean Grove shopping centre today.

Aesthetically, the corner store welcomes locals and visitors by its location, diagonal corner door and visual image. It is located near a curve in the main road through Ocean Grove leading to the nearby town of Barwon Heads and is a pleasant and dramatic contrast to the other buildings on the corner of The Terrace and Hodgson St; the new Post Office, the service station and a partly burnt out group of shops.

Ocean Grove corner storeMost towns in Australia have a corner store of some description, however the Ocean Grove corner store is unique to Ocean Grove, and the Grove and its unusual Methodist establishment and development are unique to Victoria and possibly Australia.

Skinners is an institution to the people of Ocean Grove and its history should be recorded and preserved to ensure it does not end up like the famous Coffee Palace (The Chalet) which was demolished in the late 1960s.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2009 03:06  

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