World Square, Sydney’s original shopping hub

A little over 50 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, a little draper’s store opened on George St. It was the start of a retail revolution.

In 1823, Anthony Hordern, an English free settler, set up a drapery shop on George Street, Brickfield Hill. The family lived above the store and, after considerable success, they were soon joined by other relatives who opened up neighbouring businesses along busy George Street strip. In addition to the original Hordern’s drapery business, which sold fine linens, fancy hats and dresses, carpet, furnishings and leather goods were now sold to those who had done well in the colony.

As Sydney grew, so did the Hordern empire, which eventually took up a whole city block, bordered by Goulburn, George, Pitt and Liverpool Streets. But it was a muddle of shops all rolled into one under the Hordern’s banner. By 1882, Anthony Hordern & Sons was a major destination with one visitor guide describing George St, and the area on which World Square now sits, as “almost like a bazaar; there is hardly any article in common or occasional use that cannot be purchased. In this respect, it is distinct from many other parts of Sydney, where one has one class of retail dealers nearly exclude all others”.

While the business later moved to Haymarket, those premises were destroyed in a massive fire on 10 July, 1901. While Hordern’s then set up shop temporarily in the Exhibition Building, Prince Alfred Park (also later destroyed by fire), a new building – The Palace Emporium or Senior Store – was being erected on the site of Hordern family’s original Brickfield Hill site in 1905. The Palace Emporium’s main entrance was fitted out in fine Italian marble and one advertising slogan of the time proclaimed it sold “anything from a needle to an anchor”. By that time, it was not only the largest department store in Sydney, with 52 acres (21 hectares) of retail space, it was the largest department store in the world. In addition, Hordern’s also operated one of the largest mail-order businesses in Australia. By the late 1960s, and after several takeovers, the business closed down for good.

Today, World Square is again home to retailers of all sorts, more than 100 in fact, offering everything from high-end fashion to an array of cosmetics, to the latest in electronics to banking services. There are also great restaurants, offering an array of dishes from across the globe, from healthy poke bowls and traditional Asian cuisine to modern-day fried chicken, beers and burgers to sweet treats.

Given the current climate, eateries are currently available for pickup and home delivery only. See World Square’s best eat-at-home choices for pickup or delivery here.

Written by Grant Jones

Anthony Hordern & Sons, as pictured 1924-5, the site on which World Square now sits. Photo courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. ON2/421 

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