Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leo O'Malley's store

Last week, while I had started my photo-odyssey that day looking for a good shot of the Beresford Square buildings, I noticed again the 75th anniversary posters in the windows of the Leo O'Malley's menswear store on Karangahape Road -- and decided to pop in there to ask if there was any history to share.

Leo O'Malley's reminded me very much of some of the clothing stores we used to have here in Avondale -- Fowlers, Gardners. Places where the shirts were neatly folded on shelves, and the measuring tapes were only just out of sight behind the counters. As with the art gallery later that day, I didn't get any odd looks when I explained that I had a local history blog, and was looking for information to post up. Instead, they hunted up a copy of an article done specially on the store in the trade magazine Apparel (May 2010), and helpfully pointed me in the direction of a surviving piece of old advertising across the road (see below).

Info on John Patrick Leo O'Malley (c.1888-1960) is a bit thin on the ground. I've been able to find his obituary, and some tantalising snippets from Papers Past. He was born in New South Wales, and was educated at the Christian Brothers' school at Lewisham in Sydney. His obit says he came to Auckland about 1911, but it may have been slightly earlier.“Prompter”, of the Observer in April 1909, wasn’t impressed with what seems to have been an early performance by Mr O’Malley, in “Sixes and Sevens”:
Mr Leo O'Malley was not particularly convincing as Jack Warrender. It would be preferable also if he was a little more sparing with the rouge, or whatever he makes his countenance up with. From the dress circle it looked as if be had done the job with a trowel, and what it must have looked like from the orchestra stalls is a problem that is too vast for the mind of man to grapple with. Mr O'Malley's singing was out of tune.
 It looks like he may also have started out working for John Courts Ltd. In October 1909, he approached Auckland City Council on behalf of the John Courts employees regarding tennis courts at Victoria Park (Observer, 2 October 1909). By 1911, he was a traveller for the firm – and ran foul of shop opening regulations.
At the Police Court at Paeroa yesterday, Leo O'Malley was charged with failing to close his business premises at Karangahake on the half-holiday. Mr Porritt, who appeared for defendant, pleaded guilty on his behalf, explaining that defendant, who was a traveller for J Court Ltd, of Auckland, had opened the shop on the Tuesday, and had been under the impression that as he was not open on Monday that he could keep open on the half-holiday on Wednesday. The firm knew nothing about the matter, and did not encourage its travellers to unfairly compete with local business people. Defendant was fined 20s and costs 7s.
Ohinemuri Gazette, 7 April 1911

The Observer’s 1909 opinion of him aside, if that was the same Leo O’Malley – he started signing baritone in radio performances broadcast on Auckland’s 1YA station from around February 1928, and became a solid hit through the 1930s.

In April 1935, he opened a women’s clothing store at 254 Karangahape Road, next to what was once the Norman Ng Building. This is where the earlier shop sign was when I photographed it in 21 January.

Six months later, a men’s clothing store followed, at the Pitt Street – Karangahape Road corner, in the  1904 Pitt Street Buildings. 

The ladies’ fashion store was sold in 1945, but the corner business remained and is still there, though under different ownership. Three generations of Leo O’Malleys were to manage the store until 1999, when it was sold to the Eggleton family. David Eggleton had worked there from 1982. The same family also owns Suits on Broadway at Newmarket, which David Eggleton manages, while his brother John is the K’Road store manager as at last year and sister Carol works on the shop floor.

Back to the first Leo O'Malley. From his obituaries in the NZ Herald and Auckland Star (15 and 16 July 1960):

He took a lively interest in amateur dramatics and was an early member of the Auckland Operatic Society and Little Theatre. He was a past president of the Retailers Federation, past rangatira of the Auckland Savage Club, and past president of the Holy Name Society and the Karangahape Businessmen's Association.


  1. Leo O'Malley was my grandfather. His son, Leo is still alive, along with two of his daughters, my mother Rosaleen, who used to work in the store office and my aunty Joe.

  2. Interesting, us O'Malleys really do get around. Ed O'Malley

  3. Leo was my great grandfather, his son Leo, my grandfather,ran the store and then with Leo, my father. Both are still alive. The shop was bought by the Eggleton family in 1998 (I think) and it has been announced today that it is closing for good. End of an era.