The Ghost of Job Warehouse

I was saddened to read some time ago that Job Warehouse was closing down.  Melburnians will know what I’m talking about: a grubby, shambolic fabric shop up the Parliament House end of Bourke Street that seems have been been there forever.

For those who have never been inside Job Warehouse, think wall to wall fabric, double the amount you were just thinking of, double it again, then arrange the bolts from floor to ceiling, from back wall to shopfront display window, with the haphazard flair of a kid playing pick-up-sticks. Think rich fabrics. Think poor fabrics. … Think the finest and the rarest. Think dead flies and the odd stray sandwich.  Think bridal, suits, opera, army. Think every type of material you’ve ever heard of then double that too… Think of a leaking masonite-patched roof.  Think colour as far as the eye can see- which in the dimly-lit clothy claustrophobia of Job Warehouse isn’t very far. [ Tony Wilson ‘No looking with the hands’ The Monthly, August 2005]

Job Warehouse (54-62 Bourke St) was spread over several shops in a double storey row that was constructed in 1848-9.  As such, it is one of a handful of pre-gold rush buildings still standing in Melbourne.  It is constructed of rendered stucco on a basalt plinth.  The western part of the building, nos. 60-62 Bourke Street, was built by a well-known butcher William Crossley as a shop, slaughter yard and residence, and the landscape artist Eugene von Guerard lived in number 56. It is registered on the Victorian Heritage Database. [Check out the pictures on the database entry]. I should feel reassured by that, but after my Banyule Homestead adventures,  I don’t.

[Click to enlarge the pictures]

I must confess that I never stepped foot inside Job Warehouse while it was open.  Two reasons: first, it was very rarely open and second, I’d heard terrifying tales about the owners.  They were two brothers, Jacob and Max Zeimer, who arrived in Melbourne in 1948 as penniless Polish refugees. All their family had perished in the Holocaust.  Their salesmanship was idiosyncratic:

“He [Mr Zeimer” took one look at me,” recalls Erin, a disgrunted shopper, “and yelled ‘Out! No browsing, just buying!” Another short-lived customer claims that in trying to access a particular material she once had to move an errant banana that had been left lying on a bolt of cloth.  She was spotted with the banana and shown the door: ‘No food in shop! You will have to leave’…..’You had to know what you wanted’ says Gaby, another regular ‘but if you were looking for individual, vintage and unusual fabrics it was the place to go.  Some of the stuff was water-damaged and rotting. Some was just beautiful’  [Tony Wilson, ‘No Looking with the Hands’ The Monthly August 2005]

There’s even a video from the Late Show where Tony Martin and Mick Molloy get kicked out and try to re-enter in typical Chaser fashion.  It starts at 3.00 minutes in and goes to 4.30.

When Max died in 1988,  Jacob continued on in the business, closing the haberdashery section that Max had run as a mark of respect.  Jacob died in 2005 aged 91.  His sons decided to close the business in 2012 and lease the building, possibly for restaurants.


Well, that hasn’t happened yet.  Job Warehouse is closed but not gone completely.  Walking up Bourke Street, I was surprised that it still looked much the same, and if I pressed my face up against the grimy windows (that, to be honest, were not much grimier than when the shop was in full operation), I could see that it looks much as it always did.  There are still bolts of material, great snarls of lace, yellowing papers and dust.

Just for now, I can imagine that it’s still operational.  After all, it was always shut when I saw it, and a new owner could step right in and take over where the Zeimer brothers left off- if he or she had a mind to.

11 responses to “The Ghost of Job Warehouse

  1. 1848. Surely that should assure its preservation and reuse.

    • You’d hope so, wouldn’t you. It’s prime real estate up there, sitting unused at the moment. Perhaps they’re waiting to see what happens with the Metro further up the hill.

    • By the way, you’re always attracted to interesting places…. did you ever go in while it was open?

  2. Was listening to a story teller on The Moth on RN early this morning and instantly recognised that the fabric store she recalled was Job Warehouse. I bought loads of ‘vintage’ fabric there in the seventies. Remember the brothers but can’t recall ever feeling intimidated by them. The place was brilliant. And how I love the internet where I can simply type in ‘what happened to Job Warehouse’ and find your blog to answer my questions. Thank you.

    • Thank you- we live in wonderful times, don’t we. Nothing much seems to have happened since I wrote this, either.

  3. I remember going in there often in the late ’60s, and was often growled at, especially if I wanted to look in the haberdashery section. I was always gobsmacked at the sheer chaotic bliss of all the tactile textiles that we weren’t allowed to touch. I think I must have figured out a way to ‘butter up ‘ the grumpy old blokes as I sometimes was helped with a purchase,
    I will be visiting Melbourne next week so would love to know if the shops are still there in all their blowfly glory….would love a last look and would love to show my friend. Would appreciate knowing if it’s worth a trip into the city, thanks from Noela in Queensland.

    • Well, I went past about a month ago and the shop buildings were still there, but I’m not sure if anything else had happened to them inside. Anyone else know?

  4. Good reading. I allied past that ships for many, many years and it always looked shut.
    It is shut now.
    The majority of the fabric is being sold by Crossley Job Lots in Coburg North. They are on FB.
    What a little gem for Moreland residents

  5. Pingback: Job Warehouse/ Crossley Job Lots – tales of brick and mortar

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