History

HISTORY OF BIG SAMS

Paul LoPresti came from a long line of farmers; workers of the land who understood and valued the cycles of the seasons and the fruits of labour on the land. Shortly after he migrated from Sicily in the 1950s, he put these instincts and his love of a challenge to good use. Paul began a small business in the Sunshine Market. There, he built a reputation as a charismatic operator who knew his fresh produce and took great pride in supplying it to the people of the western suburbs.

Paul’s first business venture was a small delicatessen in Lygon St. Carlton. Here, he recognized the migrant desire for familiar produce. Making connections to people within that community, planted an important idea in Paul’s mind- food was not only a necessity for the body, but for the migrant it was a necessity for the spirit which hungered for home in those first few years in a new country. He recognized that there was an opportunity to comfort the homesick migrant and to introduce the Australian community to new foods.
Paul’s journey as a green grocer began in the late 1950s. He and his wife Nicky were both keen to build the kind of life they had only dreamed about. Together, they became a formidable team and set out on their business adventure, running a small fruit and vegetable store in Elsternwick Market. With family in the western suburbs and a strong desire to be near them, Nicky and Paul moved to Sunshine where, once again, they set up a fruit and vegetable stall on a site across from the railway station, known then as Sunshine Market. With Paul’s expert buying and Nicky’s charismatic way with customers, they soon became well known throughout Sunshine and neighboring suburbs.
Paul and Nicolina were part of a pioneering group of migrants. Paul was one of the first Italian migrants to establish a fruit and vegetable business. It was 1973. The top singles in that year included ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,’ ‘Crocodile Rock,’ ‘Delta Dawn’ and ‘You’re so Vain.’ Gough Whitlam was our Prime Minister and shops still closed at 12 on Saturdays. The average price for a house in Melbourne was $19,800. We still used 1c and 2c pieces. The Victorian Railway had purchased vast quantities of land around the state as it lay tracks to new outer suburbs and regional centres.
When one such parcel became available, Paul LoPresti seized on the opportunity to make his dream a reality. With the growth of the newer suburb of St Albans, Paul saw an opportunity to extend himself. He wanted to use what he knew about excellent fresh produce and good business practice in order to bring the people of the west a central hub which would cater for all their fresh food needs
Paul engaged the services of Jack Honson- architect. Together they designed a venue which would become a hub for migrants of the western suburbs for many years. A place in which shoppers could find familiar foods which linked them with their homes; a place where they might go and hear a word or two in their native tongue; a place where a smell might take them back to a time before they migrated; a place where they felt at home. Big S.A.M. (St Albans Market) was open on August 30th, 1973. Balloons and music and special guests marked the occasion. On its opening day, the Market comprised of fruit shops, delicatessens, fish shops, butchers, nut and coffee shops.
The vision was to create a shopping experience. An experience where shoppers could build relationships with their favorite shopkeeper, where they could meet up with neighbors, have access to the freshest produce and make their way home with all they needed for the week’s meals. Whilst the stalls may have changed this vision is still at the heart of the St Albans Market. Providing the best produce at affordable prices in an environment which is welcoming and communal.