Many moons ago I lived on the same Fitzroy back street as Jimmy Buttons. I walked past every morning on my way to the bus stop and never once noticed it. Head in the clouds. In my defence, back then the grungy blue shopfront didn’t stand out much among the factories and crumbly old single-fronted cottages, although the long-term locals were already complaining about gentrification. Today Fitzroy is fully poshed-up and turbo-priced and brimming with young professionals, and Jimmy Buttons stands out like a rare sore thumb among the glossy new apartments and fancy furniture shops.
But while the world outside has changed, inside the shop they’re still doing what they’ve done for more than a quarter of a century: selling buttons. Jimmy Buttons is a crowded little cave full of crazy treasure, family members, random small dogs, bags, boxes, piles of vintage fabric, walls of buttons and random sewing-related bits and pieces. Their official speciality is covered buttons for the clothing trade, but they also sell retail to non-businesses and drop-ins. Buttons range from sweet little wooden and tortoiseshell hearts and flowers to diamante extravagance for big fat Greek weddings – and everything between. Endless rolls of lace, leather and cotton trim, pom poms, ribbons and binding fight for the remaining wall and floor space, and at the centre of it all is Jimmy himself – loud glasses, loud voice, keeping some sort of order in the chaos.
I was joined on my recent visit by four small girl cousins on a school holiday button-hunting adventure. We sorted through the wilderness of sewing stuff alongside no-nonsense old lady seamstresses, shy teens hoping to match buttons to high school formal dresses and serious fashion students finishing assignments. Jimmy and co were nothing but patient as the girls painstakingly selected single buttons from sky-high stacks for their various crafty projects. Decision-making took close to an hour, and when they finally made it to the counter to pay, Jimmy started counting up their little bags of loot then gave up and told them it was on the house. Old school.
So Jimmy Buttons has a new generation of loyal fans, who took their button budgets down the street and blew it all on single cones at Gelato Messina, the ice-cream shop that has everyone in modern-day Fitzroy losing their tiny minds over the double choc chip. Old meets new in one afternoon. Thanks Jimmy!