Wander down the northern end of Bourke St and you will find a colourful store filled with all things Melbourne. We chat to owner Jenny Brown, owner and founder about work, life and that wonderful pocket of the city known affectionately as Bourke Hill.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Growing up in the 70s in the big, flat, treeless north, before cafes, avocados or even colour TV, let alone the wonders of computer technology, mobile phones or Netflix was like watching repeats of a long Moomba Parade on a black and white TV with the sound turned down; uneventful, predictable but sort of quaint. I was the last of a huge family of 8, my parents were from the pre-war generation, the house held a multitude of memories and physical objects from a 30 year period. It was like living in a mysterious museum where a party had happened, but just before you arrived.
School was 12 years of looking sweet and pressed in my hand-me-down catholic schoolgirl uniforms. Straight after school, I discovered hair product, ripped stockings, coffee, pubs and boys. It was the 1980s. I studied art history and cinema studies.
Tell us about your career
My Career is in shopkeeping! My business is located at the top end of Bourke St, Melbourne, we like to call the area Bourke Hill.
How did you get into this industry?
Attrition! I wanted to be an academic, a curator or an arts manager, but I kept finding myself behind a counter. Eventually I gave in and embraced it.
On a typical workday, I have coffee (my partner kindly delivers) check emails, the news and plan the work day before getting up. I then exercise a little. On days when I’m not opening the shop I tackle some accounts and answer emails at home, head into the shop before lunch, assist my highly capable staff, who are better at running things than me with whatever needs doing. I serve a few customers, tidy a few shelves, have more coffee, maybe plan some new stock lines, or do some ordering… I talk talk, talk to customers and suppliers, lock up late, head home, have wine. Finally I shower and do some stretches, sometimes I read, but mostly I pour over Instagram & Pinterest for ideas... I sleep and get ready to do it all again tomorrow!
What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career?
Probably coming to the realisation that I’m a terrific shopkeeper and being completely OK with that.
Best creative memory?
Heading up the rickety warehouse stairs in one of the old Munro buildings behind the Queen Vic Markets to our first a Melbournalia pop-up opening in late 2011, which had been planned in mere months, put together on hope, many favours and a shoestring budget... seeing that the place was full of friends, family and well wishers!
What’s on the horizon for the future?
I’m happy. I’d like to see the neighbourhood of Bourke Hill develop further. There are some terrific new businesses around us, and the old Job Warehouse and Palace Theatre sites are being redeveloped, which will be great for the area. There are of course some fabulous established and iconic Melbourne businesses in our neighbourhood such as Pellegrini’s, The Paperback Bookshop, Hill of Content and Gallery Funaki. I’d like Melbournalia (still a newcomer at just 5 years old) to be counted among them one day.
If you had any creative business advice what would it be?
Probably...take advice from those you trust, but listen to yourself and follow your heart as well as your head. Also, learn to delegate. You can’t excel at everything, but you can excel at finding the right person for the job!
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would it be and why?
My mum in 1953 (10 years before I was born). She had a whole bunch of kids, no car, the most basic appliances, a handsome, hard working but troubled war veteran husband, few outfits in her wardrobe, a jar of Ponds Cream and a lipstick on the dresser. Yet her house and her family were her pride and joy, both were always spotless, nothing went to waste, there was always good food on the table and fresh smelling washing on the Hills Hoist. One day in her shoes and I would never be complacent again.