A Greek immigrant who kept his crumbling milk bar open for 62 years has moved into a nursing home at the age of 91.
Nick Fotiou ran the Olympia Milk Bar in inner west Sydney and barely took a day off after purchasing it with his brother John in 1959.
Even as the street scene from Parramatta Road to Stanmore changed around him, Mr. Fotiou put on his apron and served milkshakes, tea and burgers.
Although the shopping street is now unrecognizable, hardly anything has changed inside since the store was set up in 1939.
Olympia Milk Bar in west Sydney opened in 1939
Owner Nick Fotiou has been a constant presence on Parramatta Road in Stanmore in western Sydney, but has now moved into a nursing home
Even when the street scene changed from Parramatta Road to Stanmore, the store remained the same
Decades-old posters hung on the walls, including the 1970s band The Street, and the shelves were filled with old boxes of chocolate bars and beverage cans.
Mr. Fotiou would emerge from the shadows to take orders and process payment at an old cash register.
The lights in the milk bar were always off, and Mr. Fotiou lived above the store and was reluctant to talk about his private life.
He refused to stop, even when dust collected on the antique decorations and mold began to appear – or when the ceiling collapsed.
The building became so dilapidated that, after a long battle, the municipality closed it in 2018 until repairs were carried out.
But the elderly owner refused to rush, insisting he could go ahead and fix the asbestos problem, the rodent problem, and the leaky ceiling at his own pace.
The dilapidated building has been in decline for years and is now boarded up
Although the shopping street is unrecognizable, hardly anything has changed inside since the original Olympia he bought was decorated in 1939
Mister Fotiou would emerge from the shadows to take orders as he hunched over the bar and took payment on an old cash register
Decades-old posters hung on the walls, including for the 1970s band The Street, and the shelves were filled with old boxes of chocolate bars and beverage cans
It even briefly reopened during the coronavirus pandemic last year.
‘I’ve had problems and problems,’ Mr Fotiou told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2018 of his struggle to keep the case open.
“Slow, slow, slow … But not to rush. How long it will take, I don’t know, ”he said in broken English with a heavy Greek accent of his plans to restore his shop.
The store had legions of fans, including a 4,500-strong Facebook page, but the proud owner declined all offers to resolve the issue.
“ He talked as if he intends to do the repairs himself, ” one person wrote on the page during a 2017 attempt to prevent the council’s closure.
Without asking, he admitted that his ladder is not safe to use when alone. I greatly discouraged him from getting up there.
“When I asked him if he would take money to help with repairs, such as a scholarship or a no-obligation donation, he said,” I’ll tell you what I’ve told the council, I want my customers to come back. ”
Olympia had legions of fans, including a 4,500-strong Facebook page, but the proud owner declined all offers to fix the problem
All he allowed was a temporary, and ultimately fruitless, repair to the ceiling
Mr. Fotiou bought the building together with his brother John in 1959, and the property has retained its original equipment dating back two decades (interior shown)
Known as Dr Death or Dracula because the lights in the milk bar are always off, Mr Fotiou lives above the shop and is hesitant to talk about his private life (pictured is the milk bar)
All he allowed was temporary, and ultimately fruitless, work to the ceiling.
Now the milk bar has been boarded up and Mr. Fotiou has finally accepted the end of an era and moved into a nursing home.
The NSW Heritage Register describes the milk bar as ‘of historical importance as evidence of the development of commercial leisure activities along this section of Parramatta Road from 1912’.
Originally a pool hall, reopened as a milk bar in 1939 and has since kept its name and decor, including a colored terazzo with the text ‘Olympia’ on the floor.
The Olympia has been featured in at least one novel, two songs, several works of art and was the subject of a radio documentary.
Every redevelopment of the store will have to meet strict requirements in order to keep the rich history as intact as possible.
Some photos provided by Eamon Donnelly, taken for The Milk Bar Book.
The Olympia has been featured in at least one novel, two songs, several works of art and was the subject of a radio documentary
Mr. Fotiou put on his apron every day and served milkshakes, tea and burgers