I’ve been inexplicably drawn to abandoned buildings for a long time now. Maybe it’s their air of shabby romance or the aesthetic of a formerly grand, but now decaying, edifice. Whatever the reason I’m hooked on modern buildings that are deserted and derelict; it makes me want to throw in my career and re-train as an urban archaeologist. The West End is home to many (some would say too many) empty spaces and vacant shopfronts which are sitting patiently just waiting to be reborn.
The granddaddy of them all is The Store, one of the city’s landmark buildings, opening in 1898 and closing in 1981. For almost a century this former shopping emporium grandly defined Newcastle’s retail power. Officially called The Newcastle & Suburban Co-operative Society Ltd, but known by locals as The Store, in its glory days it could boast of being the largest and most successful co-operative store in the southern hemisphere. It truly was a one-stop mega shop where everything could not only be bought, but delivered to your door as well. No more.
The building is still open, but is a tatty shadow of its former glorious self. I feel bad confessing this, but I do wish The Store was just uninhabited. My visits there always leave me with a heavy heart; it is forsaken, but not deserted. Deserted would be so much better. Then it could assume the mantle of a modern ruin, we could peer in its windows, sneak in through the former loading dock and become captivated by its desolate hallways, discarded objects and silent, but potent, history.
But the building limps on, it’s ground floor a tangled mess of construction fencing and swathes of the green mesh usually seen on building sites to create temporary walls. Fittings and features are dusty, broken or downright grotty. Curiously, stacks of chairs are everywhere.
In this scrappy scene sits a children’s activity centre, Gymbaroo. How odd. Do Goth mothers bring their children here to play? The Store’s Hunter Street facing windows advertise a weekend fish market; it seems an incongruous place to have a fresh seafood outlet which surely belongs more in a vibrant culinary context. A cheapie clothing shop occupies part of the ground floor, its fluro safety wear providing a splash of neon in the gloom. Oh yes, did I mention the gloom? Lights are turned off everywhere, not in a creepy, haunted house way, but in a we-can’t-afford-the-power-bill way.
The first floor occupant is Paul’s Warehouse, which is reached by an escalator – turned off, naturally – meaning a steep hike up a non-moving incline. On my weekday visits it’s always the same woeful scene: an acre of clothes, young hovering retail assistants, a large and rotund security guard, but no customers. Does he go home at night and dream of shop lifters, wishing for something to alleviate the boredom?
The building’s original purpose may be long gone, but there are limitless possibilities for its future. The dear Store, it’s just lost right now, caught in a curious holding pattern between what it was and what it could be. It’s not spooky, just sad.
The Store, Hunter Street at the corner of Cooper Street, Newcastle West. Gymbaroo phone: 4920 8033. Web: http://www.gymbaroo.com.au. Paul’s Warehouse phone: 8762 4106 Web: http://www.paulswarehouse.com.au
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