Situated in the heart of Sydney, it's a large ornate Victorian-era building, filled with upmarket shops and cafes and boutique stores of various kinds — and was one of the earliest "trading halls" of its kind, certainly in Australia.
Building commenced in 1893 as a government project, and, as there was a depression at the time, there was a deliberate choice to make the building grand and ornate — partly to express confidence in the future, and partly to employ large numbers of unemployed craftsmen and workers — stonemasons, plasterers, tilers, stained glass artists, metal workers and many more.
You can see from my photos how elaborate and heavily decorated it is, in the best Victorian-era fashion, with decorative tilework, intricate stone carving, elaborate plaster work, great copper domes, stained glass windows and fanciful wrought iron. It took four and a half years to construct and was opened with great ceremony in 1898 and was named The Queen Victoria Market Buildings in commemoration of her Diamond Jubilee. See the invitation to the opening and grand ball below.
"In the first few decades the QVB had the atmosphere of an oriental bazaar, and the earliest tenants conducted a mixture of commerce, crafts and skills. There were shops, studios, offices and workrooms for some two hundred traders, dealers and artisans. Housed within the upper galleries were more studious and scholarly tenancies, such as bookshops, sheet music shops, piano-sellers and piano-tuners, as well as the salons of private teachers of music, dancing, singing, elocution, painting, sculpting, drawing and dressmaking. There were also more decorous sports including a billiards saloon, a gymnasium for ladies and a table tennis hall." (From Wikipedia)
Inevitably, over time, the building (and the quality of occupants) went gradually downhill. Later, municipal "renovations and upgrades" destroyed much of the architectural magnificence of the building and by 1959, there were calls to demolish the "white elephant" and replace it with a "more useful" public square, underground carpark and fountain. Luckily, however, these plans were never carried out, and when in the 1970's the National Trust declared it an an "A" classified building in urgent need of acquisition and preservation, it was a turning point. In the mid 1980's the building was renovated and restored to its original magnificence, while keeping in place the modern innovations, such as lifts, escalators and air conditioning, etc.
I was filling in time with a friend before my plane left, and we had a lovely time wandering up and down the various levels, browsing and window shopping. They were just decorating the place for Christmas and there was a giant Christmas tree towering over several levels of the building. We had fun in the Dr Seuss shop, recalling various tales from childhood. We ogled the jewellery, and the clothes and shoes and handbags — but all we bought was . . . chocolate.
Haigh's is a fabulous chocolate shop, and even though we have Haigh's shops in Melbourne, I always visit the one at the QVB — usually to buy some chocolates for the friends who've watered my garden and collected my mail while I've been away. This time, I had made my selection and was waiting in line to be served, when my attention was caught by a very elegantly-dressed old lady. She stood at the counter gazing at all the individually hand-made chocolates, choosing the ones she wanted.
"I'll have. . . um. . . one of those." And she'd point.
The young assistant would lift it out with tongs and place it on a tray.
"And oh . . . what are those ones?"
"Yes, I'll have one of them. And what are these?" She'd point.
"Tawny fig liqueur." The assistant was very polite but her expression was showing signs of being weary of this lengthy deliberation over every single chocolate.
But I was smiling, remembering when I was a kid, the delights of deliberating over just which sweets I was going to spend my money on. My grandfather would occasionally give my cousin and me (we were the youngest in the family) the largest coin he had in his pocket and send us off to buy sweets.
I made my purchase and was ready to leave, but the old lady was still going, slowly choosing one by one. It wasn't the money — she was clearly very well off — but the selection was so wide, it was difficult to choose. And she was clearly enjoying herself.
I stopped beside her and said, "You've reminded me of going to the sweetshop when I was a little girl, taking ages to choose, deciding on this one or that — and the choosing was as much fun as the eating afterwards."
She laughed and said, "Well, that wasn't me — my parents owned the shop, so I lived in the sweetshop." And then she glanced at the young assistant and added with a wry grin, "But I suppose I'm making up for it now, aren't I, dear?" And the young assistant laughed.
Do you have a special shopping location you like to visit? Do you remember choosing sweets (or some other treat) when you were a child? Did you agonize over choosing candy and chocolates? Or were you all "grab 'em and go? What were your favorites?