Reimagining your general store

Jack Hayes

The traditional notion of a corner store milk bar is one steeped in nostalgia and tradition. 

For many growing up before the turn of the millennium, a milk bar was the first place you spent your pocket money; a milk bar was the place you would dutifully head to when your mum needed some milk or eggs; and a milk bar was also a place where the store owner knew your name. 

While they may not have survived in every suburb across the city, East Melbourne residents can safely say theirs still remains, and with it, that same old-fashioned familiarity and service. 

The East Melbourne General Store is the beating heart of East Melbourne and home to active local resident, Lisette Malatesta. 

After purchasing the property in 2015, Ms Malatesta made an agreement with former owners Norm and Anna Daher to continue the store’s legacy of community care and service into the future; just as they had done for the previous 25 years. 

“This site, here on Hotham St, has been a general store since the inception of the suburb,” Ms Malatesta said. “Back in the 1800s it was a dairy depot and part of the reason Hotham St is this wide is so milk trucks could do a U-turn in it.”

Ms Malatesta’s knowledge of her home and local area is encyclopaedic. 

With her level of local knowledge, it is hard to imagine she has stepped outside of postcode 3002, but with a decorated career in architecture, working with some of our city’s most famous hospitality and tertiary institutions, the more you find out about Ms Malatesta, the more incredible her story becomes. 


She has served as communications convenor and secretary of the East Melbourne Group, she has worked with the East Melbourne Historical Society, Holy Trinity Parish and local charities, and but most importantly, she has continued the dream of the corner store in East Melbourne Melbourne by investing in new refurbishment. 


“Shopping has changed. Melbourne’s culture of having a corner milk bar is something of my childhood,” she said. “I’m a child of migrant parents in the ‘70s, and back then every suburb had their milk bar or corner store.”

“It is so exciting that I have the privileged position of owning the freehold and can keep it going. I’ve tried to reinvigorate the store with some fit-out changes and heightening the retail offering with more gift and homewares – things we don’t have in East Melbourne.”

“Rather than going to Brunswick St, Bridge Rd or into town, you have that here on your doorstep.”

Along with a complete shop re-fit, the East Melbourne General Store boasts a new range of Melbourne or East Melbourne gift ideas, a bulked-up wine and beer selection, along with the same corner store staples including milk, bread, butter, eggs and newspapers. 

Ms Malatesta has long grappled with the surprising throwaway of “I’ve lived in the suburb for years and didn’t know the store was here.”

It’s an unfortunate circumstance with a simple resolution: if we want our local businesses to continue and thrive, we need to support them, just as they have supported us. 


“There is still a place for a milk bar, it is more than just a retail outlet, it’s a hub for a community. If you go to any country town, there is always a store like this,” Ms Malatesta said. 


“We know if our customer has had a bad day, and often, you are seeing us more than you are seeing family and friends.” 

“When you go to a supermarket, you don’t see the same faces day in, day out. It’s like visiting a friend to come to a shop like this, especially for people who live alone. We might be the only people they see all day.”

Just as Ms Malatesta was passed the baton in 2016 to continue the rich history of 53 Hotham St, East Melbourne, the torch now lies in the community’s hands to reimagine what it truly means to “shop local”.

After all, where would we have been without the help of a general store at some point in our lives? •

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Caption: East Melbourne General Store owner and local resident, Lisette Malatesta, with fresh in-store offerings.

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