Elizabeth and Henry Cohen opened their milk bar in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, an inner suburb of Melbourne, in 1939. Born in Australia, they were descendants of Jewish immigrants from Europe.

Just around the corner from the Lee Street Primary School, the shop was always crowded with school kids at lunch time. It was their tuckshop, and every Friday 'good' children were rewarded with a free handful of boiled sweets from the big lolly drum that Elizabeth kept behind the counter. The milk bar gradually took on an unofficial neighbourhood name of the Old Lolly Shop.

For adults the milk bar was a place to sit and talk, or to meet when strolling home from Sunday night dances at Monash Hall.

The milk bar was one of many small family businesses that became the mainstay of countless families and the heart of many suburban communities. After World War II, many post-war immigrants, especially those from southern Europe, embraced the opportunity to run a small business - butchers and tailors, greengrocers, restaurants, fish and chip shops and milk bars.

Often the whole family was involved in such businesses. As a boy, Alan Cohen collected bread, pies and cakes from nearby bakeries and delivered them by bike to his parents' milk bar.

The Cohens saw the neighbourhood change. Carlton's Jewish community was moving out to the middle suburbs, to be replaced by immigrants from Italy and Greece in the 1950s and 1960s. Then students and professionals moved in. Shopping trends shifted too: supermarkets multiplied, and schools ran their own tuckshops.

Elizabeth closed the shop in 1975. By that time she had served generations of Carlton children and their parents.

The museum collected what remained of the contents of the shop when the building was sold in 1992. The Old Lolly Shop Collection comprises around 100 items, including a cake display cabinet, ice chest and pie warmer, food safe, shelving, menu and a large collection of advertising signs.

More Information