A TRIP to the department store during the holidays has been a ritual for generations of shoppers.
For many years the go-to place to shop in Canberra and Queanbeyan was JB Young – a department store chain founded in Queanbeyan by businessman James Buchanan Young in 1914.
While the department store carried the JB Young name, it was Mr Young’s manager Herbert George Colman who bought the land designated for the site of the Young’s first Canberra store.
“In 1924 the first commercial block of land was auctioned off in Kingston and grandfather kept bidding until he got it, because he realised that the company’s long-term future lay in the development of Canberra,” Herbert Colman’s grandson Bill Colman said.
“The Kingston store was built the following year, and it all went from there.”
Bill, 73, is reflecting on his family’s commitment to retailing, which spanned more than 100 years and across three generations.
“When I look back I feel very proud of my family’s achievements,” said Bill who followed the family’s tradition by pursuing a career in retail that took him to Selfridges in London.
Bill said his grandfather bought out JB Young in 1925 and that during his time in charge, the business took off.
“In 1927, JB Young opened its second Canberra store, in Civic, and a second Queanbeyan store known as ‘West End’ opened in 1936,” Bill said.
Post-war activity and major building work in Canberra, during the ’50s and ’60s, saw Canberra expand and JB Young stores with it.
“In 1954, grandfather celebrated 40 years with the business and in the same year the rebuilding of the Queanbeyan store – now Riverside Plaza – commenced and was completed in 1956 with a staff of 60,” Bill said.
Following Herbert’s death in 1959 – at the age of 80 – brothers George and Jim continued to run the business.
“After grandfather died, the business kept growing,” Bill said.
By the ’70s JB Young had stores in Queanbeyan, Kingston, Civic, Dickson, Manuka, Curtin, Jamison and Aranda, and other stores across NSW.
The family’s connection with JB Young continued through its acquisition of the Emmotts, Meagher and Fosseys chain until its takeover by Grace Bros in 1979.
“JB Young ended up with around 26 stores throughout NSW and the Fosseys group with 122 stores. It was a big structure,” Bill said.
Joining the firm in the ’70s – with his cousin Phillip – Bill went on to be manager of Grace Bros country division.
Having joined the company during the last of the department store’s heyday – where it probably enjoyed its greatest popularity and success – Bill was also there to witness its decline.
Now retired, Bill said the memory of JB Young harks back to a time when there was a “complete” shopping experience.
“When I managed the JB Young’s Queanbeyan store, I introduced a cafe in the middle of the store which was quite a big job at the time,” Bill said.
“I also introduced an upmarket giftware so we sold Royal Dalton, Zwiesel glassware and Strachan cutlery. It was very successful.”
Visits to the JB Young store usually coincided with the festive and holiday season, and were associated with celebrations and “happy” times.
“When the Queanbeyan store was revamped in 1956, the window displays were brilliant,” Bill said.
“We had a display department with a team of girls who would dress up the windows and hand paint the tickets. They were an amazing feature.”
The family oriented business engendered enormous loyalty and support in the community, and Bill never ceases to be amazed by the pleasant memories conjured up by the JB Young name.
“We had staff that worked with us for years,” Bill said.
“I still bump into people who say they remember me from the Queanbeyan store, and there are a few around that still remember my father George.”
As popular as the JB Young stores were, they were unable to withstand the change in the retailing landscape.
The Curtin store closed in 1981, and others followed. When the original Queanbeyan store closed just before 1988, it brought an end to the Coleman family’s association with retailing, which generations had grown to love.
“It was grandfather’s initial foresight, determination and struggle that allowed the single Queanbeyan store to become a leading retail force in the 1980s.”
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