You may remember Victor Kiam (1926-2001), president of the Remington Products Company, who delivered that famous line on a television commercial in 1978: “When my wife bought me a Remington I was so impressed I bought the company.”
The logic sums up why Ollie Modra and his wife Julie Michelmore bought the Mitre 10 hardware & homeware and Coffee Palace business in Ocean Street, Victor Harbor recently.
“We came here at the Coffee Palace for lunch every Wednesday after we went to the movies,” Julie said. “While I then went looking through the homeware section next door Ollie would go down the back to the hardware (as men do).
“And when Anthony (Miller), the previous owner, said he was selling, we didn’t hesitate. We always felt part of the business because of the friendly staff.”
This unusual introduction to changing lifestyles and moving into the retail trade was supposed to be the lead to one of those advertorials; you know, talk up the business and bring out the ‘welcome to Ocean Street’ trumpeters.
However, the story of Ollie, Julie and their family is remarkable, to say the least; worthy of a television special interrupted by a tribute advert featuring Victor before his life spiraled in controversy and close shaves of a different kind before dying aged 74.
There is the romance. Ollie and Julie (pictured) were sweethearts at Port Elliot Primary, went out during their Victor Harbor High School years, and went off in different directions and married other partners. Later divorced, spice came into their lives when they met up again by chance, much in Home and Away soapie fashion when Julie’s dad took his car to Ollie for mechanical repairs.
It’s a nice story with local flavor, especially with Julie’s great-grandfather being a church minister around the corner and at Yankalilla, and her mother, Joan Roads, working in the gift shop across Ocean Street for more than 25 years.
Making this serial very real is the passion Ollie and Julie share for the community, indeed their new business which embraces their family.
We have Ollie in hardware and Julie running around everywhere, plus the kids with Eli in hardware, Kate in homeware, Amanda in the coffee shop and homeware, and Jai in hardware after school. Overall, there are 25 full-time or part-time staff.
Apart from Julie, every family member volunteers for the CFS, and incredibly, while Julie works after normal working hours in her naturopath business, Ollie also works four shifts 4-10pm plus an overnight shift helping people with a disability at a local CLASS centre. It means that one day a week Ollie virtually works right through the day and night, and then fronts up for work in the hardware store again. Furthermore, Ollie also runs a Bowen therapy practice.
And behind all of this, Julie is her mother’s carer, and with Ollie needs to be readily available to provide special care for Jai, 13, who has challenges with a condition called neurofibromatosis, and epilepsy.
Yet, you would never know for this incredibly brave family simply lives and enjoys every moment, and never complains.
Ollie said the courage of Jai, and working at the CLASS centre had helped him appreciate his life.
“More than anything I have learned at the centre what we can do for the people in need,” Ollie said. “I find great satisfaction in helping people with a disability here at this respite and transition home; people moving back into the community.
“There is a lot of fulfillment for me; what we can give the clients. It’s difficult to describe; you have got to have your heart in this work.”
This care and respect for others also comes through their Ocean Street business.
According to Julie, the family is driven by its respect for the community. “It is important to us because we have always looked to see the good side of this town,” she said. “Both of my parents were dedicated volunteers; mum was a Victor Harbor Council Volunteer of the Year recipient… it has always meant a lot to us.
“We have made our lives busier, but we’re coping well. I don’t usually get to bed til midnight, and I am checking my emails at 3.30. At five I am faxing. It’s a long day, but I enjoy it. Mind you, I’m looking forward to becoming more settled and finding time for social life.
“We feel good that our family is involved, and besides, it keeps us close.”
Julie said the changeover has gone exceptionally smooth, adding the support by Anthony has been outstanding. “I think that says a lot about the business as a whole; it has always been about good people and friendly service, and as I said, that was the big attraction.
“A lot of husbands go to the pub; mine goes to Mitre 10 stores so why not buy him one (she laughs). Ollie has always been a Mr Fix It… he admits to being like a kid in a lolly shop.
“I just love hardware stores,” Ollie said. “I am fortunate having the experience of building or renovating five houses. A lot of people come in with an idea what they are looking for and we just help them, and to me that becomes natural.
“I think the good thing is that each member of the family has brought in something special to the business; they have their own area of expertise, including Jai because he loves meeting people in the store after school.
“Anthony ran a good business, and we are going to try and build on that. We are now doing safety test and tag with everything electrical. Eli did the course on his very first day, and it means if a tradie buys a power tool or something else electrical and he has to go on a building site, the power tool can be tested and tagged before it leaves the store. That is important in the building trade; it’s about understanding every customer’s need.”
This Mitre 10 homeware & hardware store and coffee shop business is in The Coffee Palace site built in 1886, a true gem in Ocean Street. There we go; we have included the necessary “advertorial” type promo.
Remaining important is that these walls have seen a lot of stories develop on characters over the years, and now people with character have started their own chapter. Not even an amazing entrepreneur and business magnate like the late Victor Kiam could buy this quality.