As a young girl Saturday was always shopping day. Each week, three generations of Jones women – my nan, my mum, and my little self, would head off to Shellharbour Square. It’s a Stocklands now, but I don’t think I’ll ever call it that.
Our morning would consist of browsing the stores, putting a dollar in the Salvation Army box and buying the weekly groceries. I of course hated the latter task. Food is supposed to magically appear in the cupboard, right?
After spending half an hour in Coles (I, ever the brat, would complain loudly for the entirety), we would FINALLY finish the shopping and sit down for a snack. Coffee for mum and nan, a lemonade spider for me. Remember, these were the days before seven year olds were fed sushi and baby chinos.
I would always eat lightning fast and then have to wait for them to finish – rather impatiently of course. You see, my favourite part of the day was still to come. Eventually I would drag them away, only barely allowing a short pause for the bill to be paid.
I could smell it already.
Grasping mum’s hand, I dragged her through the centre, closer and closer to my childhood Nirvana.
We were almost there…just…a bit…further.
And there it was.
Sandwiched between two forgettable stores was every child’s dream. With its bright decor, shiny packets and the delicious mixed scent of liquorice and chocolate, there was no mistaking where we were.
It didn’t matter that I was there every week, it never failed to delight me anew each time. I would gaze around in wonder, not understanding how so much happiness could be contained in one place. The shop ladies knew us by name, and would always call me over with a wink and smile for a little taste test. I thought they had the best job in the world.
Mum would roll her eyes but also smile as she picked up some liquorice for herself and a little chocolate frog or a jar of Bo Peeps for me. Nan preferred the dark chocolate ginger. Eventually mum would say that it was time to go and that I should let the ladies get back to work. How she ever managed to drag me away I’ll never understand.
Little did I know that I would grow up to work for the company that is so firmly entrenched in the memories of my childhood. It happened about two years ago, not long before Christmas. I was handing out resumes around Miranda Fair, but wasn’t having much luck. I had all but given up, and was wandering around aimlessly when I saw Darrell Lea in the distance. I had nothing to lose, so I mustered as much confidence as possible, strode in and introduced myself to the manager. I was hired on the spot.
Mum laughed for about ten minutes when I told her the news. She referred to it as chocolate coated fate.
I’ve held several different positions since then – Christmas Casual, 2IC, Store Manager, and now I’m a Corporate Consultant at our head office. One could say that I’ve had a finger in many pieces of proverbial Rocklea Road. What I’ve found most remarkable is that no matter what position I’ve been in, I always hear from people who have had incredibly similar experiences to myself – The childhood memories, the weekly visits, the way that the company has permeated each living generation of their family.
The lesson that I’ve learned is that my family isn’t unique when it comes to our Darrell Lea experiences, and I absolutely adore that. It’s incredible. Inspiring. Beautiful.
The most touching story I ever heard was when I was managing the Hurstville store. I was busy packing shelves when a lovely old lady shuffled in and asked for a carton of coffee creams. As I began ringing up the sale she explained how these were husband’s favourite. Unfortunately, he had died four years previous. They had been together for over five decades. Every year since he had passed she would buy the creams on his birthday, sit down in his favourite chair and eat them whilst reflecting on their life together. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up on the spot, and they still do whenever I think about that story. I hope that she will be able to buy them next year.
You see, Darrell Lea is more than just a retailer – it’s something that has been an integral part of Australian family life for 85 years. It was created by a family for families. How many other companies can genuinely claim that?
In my time there I’ve heard hundreds of people comment on how Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and every other special occasion wouldn’t be the same without Darrell Lea. Evidence of this has can be found in the outpouring of love and support that the company has received over the last five days.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Darrell Lea, but I have hope. I believe in the magic that it has woven into people’s lives, including my own. All I can say is that I’m optimistic. I hope that the next generation of Australians will be popping into stores to ask when the Christmas Puddings/Coconut Roughs are going to arrive, and to suggest that we sell them all year round.
Thank you to everyone who has been supporting us with both sales and kind words over the past week. You have been an inspiration to us all, and we are incredibly appreciative. I believe that your support is what will secure the future of Darrell Lea for years to come.