The best bits of Queanbeyan and surrounds.

In 1990s Queanbeyan, department store Grace Bros was king

In 1990s Queanbeyan, department store Grace Bros was king

The Grace Bros story began long before this story in 1885, more than a hundred years before the Queanbeyan store opened. Grace Bros famously bought out the popular JB Young’s store in 1979 and continued to trade under that name until mid 1986 when they rebranded to Grace Bros.  

The store was the centrepiece of the Queanbeyan shopping district, linking Monaro Street with Riverside Plaza, and in an age long before White Fox or Shein, a department store like Grace Bros holds memories of special occasions and teenage life lessons. 


The Year 6 school social special

Growing up in the 80s and 90s as a family of six, we weren’t poor poor, but we were definitely a paycheck-to-paycheck kind of crew. I certainly didn’t buy clothes from Grace Bros every other week like my best friends, seasonal lay-bys at Best and Less were more our MO. 

So when I had the chance to buy an entire outfit from Grace Bros for my Year 6 school social, believe me when I say, I did not skimp. I was gonna get all the clothes and all the accessories a girl could dream of. I mean, my primary school sweetheart was leaving me to start high school at an all boys private college in Canberra. I needed to leave a lasting impression. 

Me in my full Grace Bros kit, 1992.

Paisley was a big deal, so the red denim shorts were a no brainer. A white bodysuit, that I’m glad I chose because I never again in my life would pull off a painted-on white bodysuit. A headband: because obviously. My hair was growing out because I thought a bowl cut like Jane off Melrose Place was a great idea, until Zoran spun my chair around and it actually wasn’t. 

Also not shown in the picture was a turned up bucket hat that was inspired by the very talented 1990s girl band Girlfriend.

But did my boyfriend and I have a memorable evening in my Grace Bros outfit, dancing ‘The heel and toe polka’ and ‘The Waves of Bondi’ at my Year 6 farewell? You bet we did. 


A Christmas musical miracle

The year was 1992. I think. (Anything pre-2000s is getting a bit blurry at this point). Every December leading into Christmas my parents would ask what we each wanted – just one special gift – our ‘Santa present’. This particular year I had my heart set on a yellow Sony sports walkman that I had seen in the shiny locked glass cabinet in the music department at Grace Bros.

My Dad wanted me to show him exactly what it was (or I wanted to show him, I can’t quite remember). Thursday night – probably after doing the weekly groceries at Jewels Foodbarn – Dad I headed into Grace Bros. Up the escalator and past the rows of cassettes, I pointed out the yellow Walkman to him and he looked at the price, I think it was in the $100-$150 range, which was a good chunk of his public service wage back then, in fact, it was more than a fortnight’s groceries for our family. “We’ll see,” Dad said, with an expression that actually said, “Maybe next year” and I felt like a selfish teenager for even asking. 

Yes, I still have it.

Christmas morning arrived and I was woken at 4am by my over- enthusiastic-about-all-things-in-life brother Kenrick. I spotted something yellow under the tree among all the red and green paper and I wanted to cry. My Dad had caught the bus to work all year and run laps of Lake Burley Griffin in his Dunlop Volleys with a hole in the toe just to make my teenage heart happy. The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Belinda Carlisle had a really good run in that Walkman and helped me to block out my sister Bree on the bottom bunk who always thought that bedtime was a great time to re-hash all her high school drama. 

The Rip Curl wallet

One Thursday night while strolling the plaza with a friend we came across a green corduroy Rip Curl wallet (the kind with the velcro) that had been dropped on on the ramp leading into Grace Bros, opposite Stock Jeans.

I picked it up and opened it to look for a drivers licence and saw that it had 50 bucks inside. “Just keep it, put it in your pocket!” my friend urged me. But my anxious teenage brain said “absolutely not” and I took it to the information desk on the upper level and handed it in. 

The rest of that night and for weeks afterward, my friend would mock me in front of our other friends for handing the wallet back in. She’d talk about all the things I could have bought with that money (mind you, she was from the type of family that was never short on cash). I felt lame and embarrassed for being a goody-two-shoes but I hope now that as a parent to teenagers, I have taught my children to do the same thing – 50 bucks is still A LOT of money! 

Thursday night thugs

Imagine it: Queanbeyan, 1994, Thursday night aka ‘Late night shopping’. You’re wearing your slouch Levis, Doc Martens, flanny tied casually around your waist and an obscene amount of eye liner for a 14 year old (or anyone of any age). Walking laps around Riverside Plaza was required for optimal social status. You had to ‘be seen’. 

Walking through the Grace Bros entrance opposite Stock Jeans and looping around the department store, before emerging out the other side (where the food court is today) made for the perfect circular route. We’d stop by the lolly shop for Guylian Belgian chocolate shells and lurk in Stock Jeans, trying on Rip Curl watches and imagining what outfit we’d wear to the next party – that was definitely going to get grass stains from ending up at Freebody Oval or in a grass paddock somewhere. 

Inside Grace Bros itself, we’d hang around Miss Shop and in the music section, perusing the cassingles, A-line skirts and ribbed tanks. I bought my first ever CD single from that music department: Seal’s Kiss from a Rose. I took it to my friend’s house party in Cunningham Street that weekend and it got stolen. I was devastated that I’d saved my lunch money for a week to buy that CD. It was back to sad Boyz II Men ballads for me. (I still know who took it! Blocking them from the Q! News Facebook page after they trolled the comments was karmic, but didn’t make up for my lost time with Seal.)

If you still call Myer ‘Grace Bros’ you’ve probably related to a lot of these stories and you probably have a few yourself!

About the Author: Holly Winchester

Part Jennifer Coolidge, part Jennifer Garner (gaudy and geeky), Holly idolises Dolly Parton and Princess Di and loves NRL. When she's not creating killer content, you’ll find Holly at the Maccas drive thru getting her chai latte fix or buying 1990s memorabilia for the walls of her Googong home. Specialist subject: the Woolies carpark.