Coles and St. James
George Coles senior was married in 1882 and when their first son was born in 1885, following tradition, he was named George James.In 1892, George Coles Snr bought the North Eastern Stores in St James and Lake Rowan. The family first lived in Lake Rowan and then after building a 10 roomed house moved to St James in 1895. George James or GJ as he is commonly known and his siblings attended school in St James. In 1900 tragedy struck when Mrs Elizabeth Coles died of pneumonia and George was left with ten children to look after. It was a great blow. In 1902 he sold the St James and Lake Rowan stores and moved to Geelong where he married again. He returned to St James in 1905 once again purchasing the St James and the Lake Rowan North Eastern Stores. After leaving St James GJ helped in the store but his father’s conservative way of running a business did not sit well, so in 1908 he took a job with Crooks National Stores in Prahran for 30/- a week. He also studied a bookkeeping course. With his father’s failing health GJ returned to St James, and purchased the shop from his father in 1910 for £4,500 on terms, to be repaid at 6% interest over 3 ½ years. He started off with a capital of £25, but by drastically reducing the stock by £1,000 he made 5% profit on sales. By 1913 he had made a profit of £2,000. He sold the shop and travelled the world studying the best kind of business to run.
On return to Australia in January of 1914, he and brother Jim bought an insolvent business at 288 Smith St Collingwood. The first World War intervened and the brothers went to war. Arthur, Jim, David and George. Arthur and George were wounded, but sadly Jim and Dave were killed.On return to Australia GJ and AW Coles opened another store at 172 Smith St. Collingwood and so the story continued. Coles as we know it to-day is one of Australia’s biggest employers, with stores all over the country. During the Depression GJ employed many of the young friends he had made in St James knowing they were hard workers. It helped many families doing it hard by sending money home.
The history of the Coles Family in St James has continued over the years. GJ never forgot where he had come from, and visited old friends regularly. His generosity and that of the Company, to our town is legendary, with donations to the Recreation Reserve, the Bowling Club, the Golf Club, the St James Hall restoration and a donation to the St James Silo Art.
GJ’s last visit to St James was in 1977 for the St James Back-To. He died later on that year.