Helena’s Curiosity Shop – est 1990

Address: 6/325 Centre Rd, Bentleigh VIC 3204

Phone(03) 9563 9759

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From an interview with Helena that has been edited


We sell collectables like books, chinaware, records and sheet music.

I run a stall at the Bentleigh market and it is still there. That market has been around for forty years, and it’s an incredibly important local institution.

Helena’s Curiosity Shop is an extension of what I was – and am – doing there. My nana was always collecting, so I think that it is in our blood. It is a shared love, and we have always sold a bit of everything.

Since we have been here the arcade has changed quite a lot.

There was a stamp shop for a period of time. A fancy goods shop, a record shop, a comic shop which is still going on Sydney Road, a Scottish kilt shop and an antique shop around the corner. But, over the last ten years, the arcade has established itself as a health centre.

There have been renovations over the years but the design and the terrazzo type floor has remained the same.

It’s an iconic sort of space

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I started off with my own collection.

I try to buy bits and pieces, but the idea is that I’m looking after the items until somebody comes along.

I get joy out of it.

The shop looks a bit messy at the moment but we have a range of novels. The classics are down the bottom. The Australiana is along the wall. We have gardening books, cooking books, autobiographies and biographies.

I don’t know how many books and records we have, but there are over 1000 pieces of sheet music. In a small space it’s very compact. Books behind books. Like The Leaning Tower of Pisa of books. I worry about making sure there’s a walkway for people but – at the moment – it looks a bit overwhelming.

And I wouldn’t say we sell antiques. I’d categorise them as collectables.

It’s basically whatever pleases the eye.

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The little sayings on the wall are not for sale.

And I have gotten a lot of the collectables from Ainger’s, a terrific family auction in Richmond. Sometimes I instinctively buy what I like, but you have to keep in mind what people ask for.

We also get a lot of first time and visiting customers, and they tend to be of all ages. A lot of people might be visiting the area and have a bit of spare time to walk around.

There are also customers who return after a long absence. You’re learning from people all the time, which is terrific.

But it’s not Bourke St.

At times, it can be very quiet.

Trends in collecting change over the years.

You need to have an understanding and an appreciation of people’s circumstances to run a shop like this.

For example, it used to be the case that people would live in the same space for 20, 30 or 40 years. They would typically have the opportunity to collect. But a lot of people are downsizing now.

So, especially with the younger generation, they generally live in smaller areas and are constantly on the move depending on work. It is harder to carry and transport all of your collectables.

That doesn’t mean people don’t collect.

They do so in different ways.

Helenas(38of43)
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Music is something that is always collectable.

Records are back in, but at a time – when people were considering storage and space – they moved to CD’s.

Then there was the evolution towards iPods, but customers came to appreciate the dust-jacket and the artwork and the quality of the sound that comes with a record.

Now there’s something exciting about handling a cassette.

So that’s the interesting thing about trends.

If you wait – and you hold onto something for long enough – it can come back in again.

Helenas(35of43)
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Everyone has something they collect.

It’s human nature I think.

Some people might say they don’t collect anything, but you will often get an immediate sense of somebody’s personality when you walk into their place.

Just because it isn’t physical knick-knacks, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a valid collection. It could be photos or songs on a mobile phone; anything really.

It represents something about us, and I think these collections help get people through the day.

Every suburb has got to have its individual niche and feel and character.

It has to have that something that draws people.

But, if it gets to a stage where one suburb becomes exactly the same as the next suburb – like there is a particular formula – the area loses its attraction and personality.

People will go to places like Chadstone or Southland instead.

So these communities have to keep their unique character.

Helenas(10of43)
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

In five years’ time, Bentleigh will be so different.

A lot of people might be thrilled with that.

But there are still members of the community who think think it is too soon and too much

Helenas(4of43)

Written by Aron Lewin and all photos by Tatiana C C Scott

talesofbrickandmortar@gmail.com

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