End of an era for Modak

By Sunny Liu

After trading on Elizabeth St for 88 years, Modak Motorcycles closed its doors in February. 

Established in 1930, and likely the oldest motorcycle business in Australia, Modak has been selling spares for classic British motorcycles from the last century.

Modak has been in the hands of the Beanham family since 1955.

In 1971, the family bought the former hardware shop at 299 Elizabeth St and relocated Modak from across the road, where Melbourne Central now sits.

Owner David Beanham said losing the shopfront had been a difficult but inevitable decision.

“We are one of the last old-style shops in the middle of a large city. But being quirky does not guarantee customers to cover the cost of running a business in the CBD,” he said.

“In the end we are no different to any other retailer and it all depends on who’s coming through the door.”

Mr Beanham said the prevalence of online retailers made it difficult for physical stores to survive, but the State Government’s land tax hike was “the final nail in the coffin” for Modak.

“The policy introduced by the State Government has more than doubled the amount of land tax we pay. Running a business is an economic proposition and we can’t be here forever without being profitable,” he said.

“No business lasts forever and we have done very well to last this long. Having a record of trading for such a long time is a testament to our good business practice.”

Mr Beanham said Modak would continue to take orders from customers through emails and phone calls.

“We’ve always posted parts to people wherever they are in Australia. We are not closing down, but we are losing the shopfront,” he said.

Mr Beanham plans to lease the ground floor shop and will move the hundred-year-old shelves and stock to a storage room upstairs.

He said it was likely a hospitality operator would rent the shop.

“It’s unknown at this stage. But, bearing in mind what’s happened to every other shop on this block, I’d say it’s probably something to do with food. That’s all that seems to survive,” he said.

Modak Motorcycles has twice been recognised by the Lord Mayor’s Commendations for small businesses.

Mr Beanham’s mother Jean Beanham, who worked on the family business well into her 90s, received the prestigious platinum award for more than 50 years in businesses in 2013 and Mr Beanham received gold in the 2016 Lord Mayor’s Commendations.

Mr Beanham said small businesses were an important part of Melbourne’s fabric but it had become difficult for small businesses to stay operating in the CBD.

“I think it’s great to have something different in the city. It’s a shame that small businesses have to close. Diversity is important and I think our city is losing that diversity,” he said.

“I don’t think the larger shops are necessarily pushing the smaller shops out. But there are factors that you can’t control, such as the State Government’s charges on land tax. Money just can’t be pulled out of thin air,” Mr Beanham said.

Orders for Modak products can still be made through the phone on 96021229 or email [email protected]

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