Monday, February 15, 2010

Sidney Myer

Lord Wiki just informed me that Sidney Myer was a business man. He started the Myer Department stores. I don't know if I've ever heard of those. It's not like we do a whole lot of department store shopping when we're in Australia. Our shopping usually consists of food and cheap souvenirs. Well, we did go to Target. Does that count as a department store?

Oh, and we also went to a few electronic stores.

Myer was born in Russia, on 8 February 1878. His place of birth is now the country of Belarus.

My ancestors are from Russia. I thought I already told this story, but I just searched through my blog and didn't see it. Well, actually the first part of the story is there, but not the second. So I'll share.

One day Tim asked me the question I dread hearing from people. What countries do you want to go to besides Australia?

For me, Australia is it. But I'm willing to consider compromising. I put the question back to Tim. Where did HE want to go? I was thinking I could tolerate something like Italy, the UK, Greece, Spain, Fiji, Costa Rica..... These are places the two of us have talked about before, probably before my Australia obsession.

Tim said the Ukraine. I was very taken aback. The Ukraine?! I had never in my life considered going to The Ukraine. It's just not on my agenda, and I had never known it to be on Tim's agenda. But he had seen something on TV about it that made him slightly interested.

I most definitely did not want to trade Australia in for the Ukraine. The idea made me slightly depressed.

Well, fast forward a few months...... My parents went on a cruise. One of their stops was The Ukraine. When they were there, they found out that the Ukraine holds the Russian city where both their ancestors lived. Here Tim unknowingly wanted to go to his wife's ancestral homeland, and I completely dissed the whole idea.

I still don't want to go.

I'm compromising by going to London instead. And THAT was voted for by all of us. Actually, it wasn't. Australia had WON the vote. But I decided to budge and take a chance on another country.

Oops. I should really get back to Mr. Myer.

His dad was a Jewish scholar, and little Sidney attended a Jewish school. He had ten older siblings.

When Myer was finished with school, he helped with his mother's drapery business.

In 1899, Myer migrated to Australia. Lord Wiki says he came to join his brother, Elcon Myer I'm guessing that means his brother migrated earlier.

Elcon and Sydney opened a underclothing store on Flinders Lane in Melbourne. Lord Wiki says this is part of the CBD.

Later they established a drapery shop in Bendigo. I'm guessing the store on Flinders Lane didn't work out. Well, neither did the Bendigo shop. So, Sidney began selling stuff door to door. He did this despite not knowing much English.

That venture was fairly successful, I think. They moved the business into a place in Bendigo called Pall Mall. A Flickr user has a photo of Pall Mall. It looks pretty nice.

Next Myer started buying out other businesses. He bought out a business in Bendigo. Then he bought out a drapery store on Bourke Street in Melbourne. I guess he was doing well financially at this point.

He bought some mills in Ballarat.

Then in 1921, he bought some buildings on Post Office Place in Melbourne. I looked that up on Google Maps. If I'm looking at the right street, it's in/near St. Kilda. Anyway, that's important because this place became the first Myer Department store.

The business continued to grow. By 1925, they had a store on Londsdale Street. By 1928 there was one on Queensberry Street. And it continued to expand. It then became a public company. And from what I see from Lord Wiki, it seems Myers wasn't too hindered by the Depression. Well, the Depression didn't hinder him, but death did. He died in 1934.

Lord Wiki has some personal information. Myer was married twice. He married his first wife in 1905, and divorced her in 1919.

He married his second wife in 1920. They had two sons and two daughters together.

One of the sons became the chairman of the ABC. That would be Ken Myer. I just looked up Lord Wiki's entry on him. He was born in America....San Francisco. So I guess that means Sidney Myer lived in America at some point. Or was he just visiting?

Well, it turns out Sidney hoped to make more of a fortune in America. And he wanted all his kids to be Americans. Lord Wiki says that Myer's wife traveled to America for each of her pregnancies. Why didn't she just live there full time with Myer?

I'm confused.

Anyway, sadly Ken Myer died with his wife in a plane crash. That was in 1992.

Lord Wiki says that Sidney Myer was a charitable man. During the Depression, he refused to terminate workers. Instead he gave everyone (including himself) a pay cut. I really admire that.

He sponsored a Christmas dinner for unemployed families at the Royal Exhibition Hall. He not only gave them food, but also provided a gift for each child.

When Myer died, a foundation was set up. One of the foundation's big projects was The Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. It's a venue for outdoor concerts. Oh! And it's where they have that famous Carols by Candlelight. I just wrote Candles by Carol Light. My mind is working backwards today. Lord Wiki says that Carols by Candlelight has been held at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl since 1938. I guess it didn't take them too long to build it.

As I was writing all this, I wondered whether the Myer Department Stores still existed. Australians reading this probably already knew the answer to that. Now I do too. They're still around. Lord Wiki says they are Australia's largest chain of department stores.

Oh! Wow. If I'm reading this right, Australia's Target is part of the Myer empire. They bought the name and logo from the American Target corporation. I didn't know that. So does that mean Australia's Target is not owned by the American one?

There's a lot of business information here. I'm going to be bad and ignore it. This is awful of me because I remember adding business people to my blog. Why did I do it? So I could learn more about business and economics. And now I don't want to. Well, I do want to learn a LITTLE....just not that much. I don't really care who bought out who or what.

Here's the Myer website. They provide photos of current fashion trends. I'm so out of it when it comes to that. Now I'm educating myself. It looks like leggings are in.

They have a link to must have toys. The only thing I can see here is a Tigger doll. He bounces and talks. Your life will not be complete without it. Go and buy one....NOW. We all must have Tigger. Otherwise, the word shall implode.

Wait. Now I see. There's more toys at the bottom. They have that Fisher Price medical kit. We have that.

Awesome. They have Barbie Twilight dolls. Bella looks like Barbie with brown hair. I'm not sure if Edward looks like Ken.

I miss playing Barbies. We had fun with them. But it's okay. Now I play Sims 3. It's kind of like the same thing.

This page has the location of all the Myer Department Stores. It looks like most of them are in the south-east. There's a few in Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia. There's none in the Northern Territory.

Anyway, enough shopping for now. I'm going to read about Myer on the Australian Dictionary of Biography Site.

His original birth name was Simcha Baevski Myer. I wonder when he changed it to Sidney. Was it before or after he moved to Australia? I'm guessing it was after. Since he was in Melbourne, you'd think he'd give himself a name that honored Victoria. But maybe he had the name Sidney before he came over. Maybe it was just a coincidence that it resembled the city that Melbourne is so competitive with.

The biography site says that Sidney's older brother came to Australia in 1896. So he was there a few years before Sidney came over.

I had something confused. He didn't just change his first name. He changed his last name as well. I thought he had been Simcha Baevski Myer. But he was just Simcha Baevski. Myers was one of his brother's second names. I guess that would be a middle name?

The website says that one of the reasons their earlier businesses failed was that older brother Elcon refused to have trading hours on Saturday. This was due to Jewish law.  You're not supposed to work or use money on the sabbath.

Although Sidney and his first wife had no children, they acted as a guardian to one of their nephews....Norman Myer. Why? Was this one of Elcon's sons, or did he belong to another sibling?

I'm reading about Norman now. The Australian Biography site says that Sidney sent for him, and had him come to Melbourne. I'm guessing this means that life was rough in Russia. Why else would parents willingly send their kid so far away to live with an uncle? It looks like Norman was only eleven when he came over.

When Sidney died, it was Norman who took over as chairman.

Back to the Sidney Myer entry.....

The website says he was good at finding fashion trends, and coming up with attractive shop displays. He knew how to bring the customers in. That's important.

Despite his business success, Myer took time out to join the fight of World War I. I think that would be rare today. Successful business people don't regularly go off and risk their lives anymore.

Now I'm not 100% sure that Myer actually fought in the war. He might have had other tasks.

The website says that Myer was charismatic. The website says, He could speak harshly when he saw fit, or at moments of sudden wrath, but generally treated staff with consideration, criticizing constructively, consulting freely, rewarding initiative and encouraging effort. That reminds me of my dad and how he is in business. 

Myer had a slight Russian accent. It could be heard when he had to speak in public. The website says he was reluctant to do so. Well, that does NOT sound like my dad. I think my dad LOVES to speak in public. Or if he doesn't....well, he has had me fooled.

The website says that Myer was impossible to dislike. I'd probably dislike him then. I'm good at disliking people when other people say that person is impossible to dislike. I'm oppositional that way.

Well, I do like Myer though.....or what I've read about him. I admire his business skills, probably because I have none. He also seemed like the type of wealthy person who doesn't completely allow greed to come in the way of human decency. The website says he saw his staff as a community. He provided services such as a free hospital, and there were all sorts of social activities.

The company that my dad and Tim used to work for felt like a community. I mean it felt like a family. Of course, it wasn't that way for everyone. I'm sure some people worked there, and felt alienated in some ways. There's no company or organization where EVERYBODY feels like they're part of the family. And even in real families, there's usually individuals who feel excluded.

In 1931, during the Depression, Myer started a major construction project on Bourke Street. He wanted to create employment opportunities and help people feel more confident and hopeful. He also cut back on overseas buying, and promoted/sold local made products.

He encouraged the wealthy to donate the poor, but also donated money himself.

Before The Depression, financial difficulties almost forced a hospital to close. Myer donated eight thousand pounds to help it stay open.

Yeah. I like this Myer guy. I think the biographical website says it best in their conclusion: Myer's bold optimism and fine philanthropy, his commercial foresight and innovative courage, and above all the brilliance with which he wrought a retailing revolution and changed the heart of Melbourne, have established him as one of the great men of his time.

I like hearing about great people....well, you know since lately I've been needing my faith in humanity restored.

Here's the Sidney Myer Fund website. They say that Myer left ten percent of his money to charity. I wonder if that came from his Judaism. In the Jewish religion, you're supposed to give ten percent of your money to charity.

The foundation has a brief biography about Myer. I'll read it to see if there's anything I haven't learned yet.

They say he came over penniless. He left Russia to escape poverty. It's great that he was able to overcome all that. And I love how he later tried to help others who were experiencing poverty. They say power and money corrupts. But I guess it ends up making some people even better. Not everyone loses their heart when they become wealthy.

This page of the site describes programs that the fund is involved with. It looks like they have a wide range....arts, poverty, education, environment, and others.

Anyway, that's it for today. I think I have more business people coming up on the list. I surprisingly don't dread it that much.


  1. Target was owned by the Coles Myer group, but I think Coles and Myer may have separated now, so Target is probably owned by Coles. I don't know of a connection to the US Target.

    His first city store would have been where the present one is, Bourke Street, Melbourne, near the GPO, hence Post Office Place I guess.

    The present State Opposition Leader, Ted Bailleu is one of the Baillieu Myers, as was Kate Baillieu who you recently wrote about.

    Interesting bloke was Sidney.

  2. Andrew,

    I had no idea that Baillieu was related to the Myers. I think I have gotten keyword searches coming to my blog regarding whether Baillieu is Jewish. I can't remember if I talked about that or not. I don't think so.

  3. Myers ... my fave shopping place ;) you're doing such a marvellous job here as always. xo

  4. what you forgot to say is that he converted to Christianity at that time it was pretty bad to do that so he divorced the first wife and just left her. the second wife was pretty young only 20 so then they had 4 kids.

  5. what you forgot to say is that he converted to Christianity at that time it was pretty bad to do that so he divorced the first wife and just left her. the second wife was pretty young only 20 so then they had 4 kids.

  6. Anonymous,

    Yeah, I did forget that. I don't think I knew it. I sometimes don't read carefully enough.

    Thanks for pointing it out!