How has Bree Street changed over time? We asked some long-time occupants – both business and residential – about how they came to Bree Street, and what made them stay.
Ernie Paulse of St Paul’s Church
“I was born here, just off Bree Street, where my family lived. Later, we moved to Leeuwen Street, and these days I live on Buitengracht, in the cottage behind the church hall, so really I’ve spent my whole life on this street, and no doubt this will be where I die too. This was a place where everyone lived, in houses like the ones that are now the cocktail bars; but then, by about 1970, the government had moved everyone away – and then also, more businesses came to Bree. Those families that got moved to Mitchell’s Plain, and to Hanover Park?
Let me tell you, many of them still come to St Paul’s on a Sunday. Yes, even from so far away. St Paul’s was also where I met my wife, and where we got married; and where we christened our own children. Let me tell you, this wife of mine – Merle – she’s a gem, a true gem. She’s been strong for me all these years. We are married more than 45 years already. We had two children; and several years ago, when my daughter died, we started to look after her girls too. The eldest has just won a prize to stay at the hostel there by the seminary school. That’s how smart she is, truly.
I remember my wife when she was young though, and let me tell you, she was an athlete. She could run like the wind. And not only that, she was also Miss St Paul’s – I remember her still to this day, with her hair just so, and this thing – what d’you call it? – a sash, draped over her. She was so beautiful. Mind you though, she had seven brothers and about the same amount of sisters – she came from a family that lived here by Bree too, and her mommy had sixteen children.
Let me tell you, it’s not so easy with seven brothers-in-law, nê? But her mommy always told her, marry a good boy, marry a choirboy – and so she did!”
St Paul’s Church was consecrated in 1880. It had already been a site of worship for at least twenty years before that. Its history is not that well known in Cape Town, but it was the home of two of Cape Town’s most important religious leaders: Bishop Lavis, for whom the suburb of Cape Town is named, and before that Archdeacon Lightfoot, who was instrumental in creating a chapel school, and was well known for being a champion of the urban poor.” Father Groepe, Parish Rector
St Paul’s Church, 182 Bree Street
Casey Agoustides of Mike’s Sports
“Our grandfather, Aleco, came here in the 30s from Greece. At that time, Greece was facing economic collapse; and my grandfather’s family was on the brink of starvation. He had two brothers and two sisters, and his parents died when he was sixteen.
A couple of years later, with no money and knowing only a handful of English words, he boarded a ship for Cape Town. In the coming years, one by one, he would manage to bring all his siblings out to South Africa – and what’s more, create a business for each of them, too. He started working in a greengrocer’s; later, he bought himself his own corner café – and then, in 1949, he started what would later become Mike’s Sports, in Woodstock. At that time it was a general department store – a bit like Garlick’s – and in among everything it also sold sporting goods. In fact, it was named for my grandfather’s brother, Michael, who’d always had an interest in sports. Later, my grandfather married a girl from the same island that he came from, and they had five children.
In his later years he returned to Greece less and less frequently; Cape Town had really become his home. Although I don’t think he ever got used to the cold water! My dad’s elder brother studied medicine – he was the anaesthetist at Chris Barnard’s heart transplant – but my father, as the second in line, never finished high school, and instead joined the family business when he was still a teenager. He was also the first captain of Hellenic Football Club.
We came to Bree Street in 2001. At the time, this part of town was quiet, and even a little neglected; very different to now. At that time you could look at any spot on the street, and there would be a ‘To Rent’ sign plastered on the wall. Of course when we first arrived, the store was very, very quiet too, just like the rest of town – and we did think, ‘Oh my god, what have we done?!’
But it wasn’t long before things picked up. Today we specialise in soccer – we’re a one-stop shop for the whole kit for teams; from boots and socks to strips and trophies – and we also manufacture and brand a lot of the kit for local sports teams. My brother became involved in the store first, and later I joined him; about ten years ago, now. So these days, once again it’s two brothers who are running the store – just like it was when my grandfather started it, three generations ago.”
Mike’s Sports World, 94 Strand Street (Corner of Bree)
Ray Barrett of DVD Nouveau
“How did I come to be here on Bree Street? Well, you could say I come from a video shop family because my uncle owned a film rental store in the 70s and 80s – first on reels for projectors and then those fat Phillips tapes and later Betamax — and that’s how I came to love film. I remember one of the first films I ever saw and loved was Tarzan, the 1967 version!”
“I came to Cape Town in 1994 and ten years later I joined my good friend and DVD pioneer Chris Reynolds in his new venture. He decided to open a second DVD Nouveau store here because he saw that there really was a gap in the market. At that time Bree Street was more about car fitment centres than flat whites but we thought it was a great spot, close to town, with reasonable rent. We didn’t know it was going to become so popular, to be honest that was just blind luck, but these days we do get more passing trade as opposed to being a destination store.”
“When we started off we had about 3 000 titles and these days we have 20 000 titles. We do realise that the days of DVDs are numbered but for now we provide a service for people who are looking for an alternative to mainstream film and TV. Our customers haven’t changed much, we have the loyal people who have been coming here for years but people are always interested in the same stuff. The most popular thing we ever had here was probably Downton Abbey. Asking for a recommendation is probably the worst thing to do … it’s very hard to try and read people’s tastes.
For example, the other night a guy came in for the first time and asked for something with a good story and a bit of suspension. I suggested he try Top Gear but I’m not sure he thought that was very funny.”
DVD Nouveau, 166 Bree Street
This article first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Molo, The world of Bree Street. Download the PDF (11mb) or flip through the digibook below.
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