Long before it became one of Australia’s biggest supermarket chains, Coles originated as a humble ‘variety store’.
Founded in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood in 1914, grocery retailer George James (G.J) Coles built the brand after learning of “dime stores” in the United States, where prices were just two, five or 10 cents.
Coles opened its first store in Smith St, Collingwood in 1914.
With a promise to lower the cost of living for Australian families by offering “nothing over 1 shilling”, the store was an immediate success.
On its first day of trade (9 April 1914), all stock was sold – the main attraction being an enamel mixing bowl.
“The opening day was a riot,” G.J Coles would later write, “with women trying to buy our Star Bargain: A 26” deep enamel mixing bowl at 1/-. Our takings were £100 and when we closed the doors at 5:30pm, there were sundry articles of women’s clothing, two hats and a baby among the debris.”
This image of G.J Coles first store courtesy of Coles Myer Ltd Archives.
Despite the outbreak of World War One just months later, Coles managed to stay afloat and opened a second store in 1922.
The following decade would see the launch of 30 more locations in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and NSW.
“A store has no right to success just because it is open for business and has a bright display,” G.J Coles once said.
With a promise to lower the cost of living for Australian families by offering “nothing over 1 shilling”, Coles was an immediate success.
Ladies dresses are on display in a shop front window. Image Coles Myer Ltd Archive.
A.W Coles was appointed Managing Director in 1931, leading the company on its first major expansion and by 1933 Coles was represented in all States of Australia through 30 stores.
“A store has no right to success just because it is open for business and has a bright display,” he said at the time.
“Our goods must reflect the wishes of the community in which the store is located.”
Mosman Coles (1934): Located at 22 Spit Rd, you can see the ‘Coles Christmas Fair’ window display. Image: Coles Myer Ltd.
On 21 November 1934, G.J Coles came to Mosman, opening the doors to 22 Spit Rd at 9:30am.
Goods on sale included seven-piece fruit sets, toys, cotton reels, ladies’ aprons, hats dresses and nickel torches.
Interior of Mosman’s Coles variety store (1934). Image Coles Myer Ltd Archive.
As anticipated – and despite the Depression – local shoppers came out in force to search for a bargain.
It stayed that way for the next 35 years.
Mosman Coles (1934): Counters displaying bargain merchandise. Image: Coles Myer Ltd.