19 Dec 2006, Comments Off on Little old ladies Underground Collective

Little old ladies Underground Collective

Author: Helen

Lexical note: I’m not in favour of the word lady or ladies as part of modern-day usage, at all. It has connotations and resonances I don’t like much. That’s a blog for another day. But the ladies in this story are members of a different generation. It is just not possible to describe their world without using this obsolete term, which, like Mrs, is avoided by patriarchy-blamers like me but is a badge of honour for them.

If you still haven’t bought any Christmas cards because you can’t face the teeming CBD or, worse still, the megamalls like Highpoint and Chaddy, it might be worth trying the St Pauls VCOSSCard and Gift shop: A retail experience unlike any other.

Skulk around the Flinders Lane side of St Paul’s, which is just across from Fed Square, avoiding the self-conscious punkettes sitting on the side steps (The real punks at the Seaview Ballroom in the eighties woulda had them for breakfast, wouldn’t they Brownie?) and you’ll see an entrance to a little shady courtyard. Then you’ll go through a couple of big Gothic doors, one of which is guarded by one fierce Little Old Lady who will ask you your quest. You will say you’ve come for the Card Shop and she will wave you on in the right direction, down through the catacombs. At this point bumping into Albus Dumbledore would be no surprise.

Once you have made it down the stone steps and through a narrow corridor you find a small dungeon full of faithful customers. You’ll see the cards, which are the Business, thumb tacked to the walls, one example of each with a code and number.

Not so fast! There’s a System! if you don’t understand it, another Little Old Lady will whoosh to your elbow within seconds to explain it. To your right as you come in, there’s a box full of mini clipboards with forms on them (each one with its pen firmly attached, naturally.) The forms are like little invoices. You put down the codes for the cards you want, quantity, price per card and add it all up. No calculator, please. Then when you’re finished you go to the counter and give your little clipboard to the ladies behind the counter.

The cards come from many different charities, so you juggle what designs you fancy with causes you support – this year I’ve got the Brain Association, natch, and I always like Amnesty with their multilingual and secular salutation. Pee cee multiculti? Bite me. There’s Riding for the Disabled, MS, Red Cross, different hospitals, Alzheimers association… They are mostly between 60 cents to a dollar. There are presents like barbeque aprons and tea towels tacked to the wall, too.

It’s cool and quiet and nothing hurts your ears and eyes with Red-Nosed Reindeers and other such aural slush. There is gentle banter that reminds you of pineapple slices at the Junee CWA.

Once the counter ladies have your clipboard they disappear into a vast set of shelves filled with shoeboxes. None of this newfangled computerised stock control here! Using their Special little-old-lady Powers they locate your stuff and give it to you to pay for at the big old cash register. Most of them are seventy if they’re a day, some older. They do this for the love of it.

I don’t see any Little Old Men working there– Perhaps they’re at home watching the cricket and moaning because Mavis isn’t bringing them afternoon tea.

Now if I could only find time to write, address, stamp and post all these cards.

Comments (0)

  • […] Little Old Ladies’ Underground Collective – Blogger on the Cast-Iron Balcony posts a wonderful short essay about a little known Melbourne institution – the St Pauls VCOSS Card and Gift shop: A retail experience unlike any other. […]

  • […] Little Old Ladies’ Underground Collective – Blogger on the Cast-Iron Balcony posts a wonderful short essay about a little known Melbourne institution – the St Pauls VCOSS Card and Gift shop: A retail experience unlike any other. […]

  • Bernice says:

    Sydney has (had?!!) a similiar institiution in the Cat Protection Society in Enmore. An opportunity shop in its fullest possible sense, though the cards were second hand. My current favourite is the Vinnies just on Broadway around from Glebe Point Road, with a huge sign on the front door, insisting you leave your bag at the front counter. The mind boggles.

  • Helen says:

    Bernice, the VCOSS ladies did experiment briefly with bag searches just after the 2001 unpleasantness. “I’ve left my Uzi at home,” I said. We both giggled.

    Second hand cards? How would that work? You just cross out the salutation to “To Minnie, Merv and young Craig, hope the lumbago is better, cheers Muriel”…? and write your own stuff next to it?

  • Zoe says:

    Bernice! I lived around the corner from the Cat Protection Society, which truly was teh Best Op Shop in teh World.

    Also, when they renovated* they gave me a cast iron claw foot bath for nothing provided I took it away. We wrangled it out the back door and 500 metres down the alley and through the garage into the courtyard. Happy memories!

    * and the architects’ plan in the window had delightful little cats all through the newly envisaged premises.

  • Helen says:

    For once, a happy renovation / redevelopment story.

  • brownie says:


    I am thinking most of the ‘shoppers’ would have been making their selections FROM the “bags at the door” and avoiding the register.

    There is always a charity card shop in Ballarat each year, and once discovered, always patronised.
    Firstly, they actually have cards with Nativity scenes,
    secondly, one may choose the card of a charity befitting the recipient –
    “ooh isn’t brownie lovely, she cares about homeless autistic whales too!”
    (no offence meant to any homeless whales reading this);
    and the cracker reason? – good quality cards for only 50c each fer chrissakes.

    on the other hand, there is a real crisis in the newsagent retail sector despite them only selling those cards which are $4.95 each, since Post Offices and supermarkets now sell these (at the same huge price).

  • CazZa says:

    late comment – they have Australian cards!! I send cards mainly to o/seas friends and family. Robins and snow are wrong, give me leaves and santa at a BBQ

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