I've been going to R. J. Harvey and Co. Pty. Ltd. since I was fifteen years old.
In those days they were up on Swanston Street near Lonsdale Street, in a shop with a brass plaque out the front which announced that they sold 'tailors supplies'. I used to go there to buy lace making bobbins, beautiful English lace thread and brass pins for pinning down the lace as you twisted the bobbins around them. I remember feeling the awe as I walked in, long antique wooden drapers counters stretched all along the right side with wooden shelves, the top reached by ladders, stacked with boxes and bolts of linings and interlinings and the arcane tools of the tailoring industry. Right down the end of the shop was a counter's lectern were the assistants went to deliver the money and get change. I was mesmerised, transported and delighted.
Every time I went I always seemed to be served by Old Mr Harvey (who reminded me of Young Mr Grace from 'Are you being served?') and as the lacemaking supplies were on the top shelf I would stand at the counter shaking in fear that he would miss his footing and topple to the ground. His ascent and descent were slow and would have me in fits of agony and hilarity. Many years later they downsized and moved down to the Nicholas Building. Their third floor rooms were perfect too. I'd go there in preference to anywhere else to buy my cloth pencils, marking wax, boxes of long thin pins, scissors, interfacing, strange tailoring waddings, stilettos........
A month ago I got word that they are finally closing the business for good. I was devastated. Places like this shaped me, the schmutter businesses of Flinders Lane that I haunted when I was at college, those people with generations of knowledge that I devoured as breadcrumbs to a hungry bird.
The other week I popped in to say goodbye to Bruce and to say how sad I was and how much I would miss them. Bruce can be a taciturn man but as we finished up he told me about his plans for retirement. How he and his wife were picking up the pieces after losing everything in the fires at Kinglake almost two years ago, that they are about to move into their new house and planting a new garden.
In parting I was glad we talked about that garden. Plants grow, they die and new things take their place, they flower and fruit and we enjoy them while we can. That really is life, beautiful in its transience.
Thanks you R. J. Harvey and Co. Pty Ltd, I will miss you.