Jones, Richard Llewellyn Interview

Today is the 22nd of September 2015.  Today I am interviewing Richard Jones, one of the Jones boys and one of the family who traded for many years in Hastings as Bon Marche.  Also Richard will probably tell us something about his time as a Councillor as well. Richard would you like to just give us something about the life and times of the Jones family?

Thank you Frank.  Well I’d like to start off from the beginning as I understand it and I’m going to read to you from the “Encyclopedia of New Zealand Volume 3” about Hawke’s Bay, which included the notice of my grandfather, Matt Johnson, who started Johnson’s in Heretaunga Street and then it moved on to Bon Marche. So if I can just read you from this encyclopedia, and it’s headed:

‘Drapers, Clothiers etcetera

‘Johnson, Matthew. Draper, Mercer and Clothier, Heretaunga Street, Hastings. 

‘This business is conducted in a centrally situated premises.  The stock is large and embraces all the newest goods and all the classes are carefully catered for by the management.  Ten persons are employed by the proprietor.  Mr Johnson was born at Whistlecock, Northumberland, England in July 1871, his father for some years being manager of Concert Ironworks in Durham.  He was educated at Penrith Castle in the north of England and came to New Zealand in 1881, his father having proceeded him under contract to work the iron sand deposits in Taranaki.  Mr Johnson began his commercial career as a newsboy in Dunedin in 1882.  He soon made his way however, and was afterwards employed for seven years by Mr Robert Brown, Draper, of Dunedin.  He subsequently worked for Messrs A & T Inglis of Dunedin and then removed to Napier under engagement to Messrs Blythe & Company.  He afterwards opened a branch for the same firm in Hastings, and after successfully conducting it for several years, went into business on his own account in a small way, has gradually forged ahead and has since taken over his old firm’s premises.’ 

I’d like to add part of one of the notices that he produced in those days, and it was headed:

‘To the Public of Hastings – Important Announcement

‘I beg to announce that I have disposed of my business to Mr M Johnson, late of Blythe & Co, and respectfully solicit a continuance of the liberal patronage to him you have generously bestowed on me in the past.  Respectfully yours, S Ridgeway’

‘In reference to the above, I have much pleasure in imitating the fact that I have taken over Mr Ridgeway’s business and intend to add Drapery to the stock.  My long experience in Hastings is sufficient guarantee that my stock will be well assorted and right up-to-date.  My prices will be found to be as reasonable as any house in the trade as my expenses will be small.  My motto will be ‘Small Profits and Quick Returns’. Country orders will receive my special attention. Inspection respectfully invited before purchasing elsewhere. Yours faithfully, M Johnson. Opening date Saturday February the 26th.’

That was the start of Johnson’s Drapery in Heretaunga Street in Hastings and he had, as you heard, ten staff including my auntie, Hinepare Will, who worked in the store as one of the sales ladies.

And what year was that Richard?

That would have been in 1928-29, in those early historical days.  I go on to record Matthew’s obituary.  He died in Hastings after a two or three year illness on the 30th of the 10th 1929, and is buried in the Hastings Cemetery.

‘The death of Mr Matthew Johnson which occurred at 4.30 yesterday afternoon after an illness extending over two years will be learned with deep regret by the whole community.  During his close on forty years residence in Hastings the late Mr Johnson, who was above all things intimated with great spirit of public service, took an active and practical interest in Hastings and its progress, and was always foremost in any movement that made for the prosperity of the town and its district.  Mr Johnson was born near Newcastle, England sixty one years ago arriving with his grandparents at Dunedin, then fourteen years of age.  At the age of twenty four he came to Hastings where he took over the management of Blythe’s branch of the drapery business in Napier, and after being in control for some years he bought out the principal’s interest in the establishment, which has been his up to the time of his death. Four years after coming to Hastings Mr Johnson married Miss Matilda Alice Kessell, and he leaves her together with a son, Mr Walter John Johnson of Sydney, two daughters, Mrs W M Will and Mrs J F Jones, both of Hastings, to mourn their loss.  He is also survived by a brother, Mr Joseph Johnson of Christchurch and a sister, Mrs R J Williams of Ada Street, Palmerston North, with all whom the citizens of Hastings express their sincere sympathy.  Mr Johnson occupied the position of Deputy Mayor of Hastings and continued to discharge the duties of this office until his failing health compelled him to resign.  Amongst his other public duties he was a member of the Hawke’s Bay Licensing Board; one of the original trustees of the Hastings Citizens Band; one of the original trustees of the Hastings Star [?Bokot?] Society;  a foundation member and a life member of the Hawke’s Bay Trotting Club and a member of the Hawke’s Bay Jockey Club.  The deceased, who was a kindly and genial disposition, upright in his dealings, generous and sympathetic, was held in wide esteem by everyone who knew him, both Pakeha and Maori.  He was deeply interested in the native race whose welfare he sought, and to whom, in individual instances, he rendered many services.  His death will leave a gap in the civic life of Hastings.’

So that was the start of the store era and you heard he was ill for some years and in the intervening period a manager was put into the store before my father, James Jones, was taken on as the manager at that time.  And if I can read a bit more about the follow on of my father’s interest in the company:

‘The death occurred yesterday of one of the best known and most highly respected citizens of Hastings and a very prominent figure in the business community for almost forty years.  Mr James Frederick Jones, governing director of Bon Marche Ltd, though he had been in ill health for some years, until very recently Mr Jones had been able to take an active interest in his business and the death came as a shock to the community in which he had figured so prominently.  Born in Carnarvon, Wales, sixty seven years ago, Mr Jones came to New Zealand when he was eighteen years of age, and three years later he settled in Hastings. In 1921 he married Miss Manu Johnson, a daughter of the late Mr Matt Johnson who was one of the city’s pioneer businessmen, and who for many years had a drapery business in Heretaunga Street opposite the Grand Hotel.  In 1928 Mr Jones took over the business from his father-in-law and this marked the establishment of the Bon Marche Ltd, which he built up to become one of the leading businesses of its kind in the province.  In spite of his very busy life Mr Jones found time to take a very keen interest in many community ventures.  Among these his chief interest was the St John Ambulance to which he gave valuable time and financial assistance.  He was a prime mover in helping the Order to secure first its building in Karamu Road almost opposite Ross, Dysart & McLean premises, and then the present building in Southland Road.  He was Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Centre in 1945, President of the Association from ’51 to ’59, a life member of the Hastings Sub-Centre, member of the Priory and Council since 1951, a past member of the Executive of the joint committee of the Red Cross and St John.  He was some time ago appointed a Commander of the Order’. 

And I just add in there, my brother Bryce followed on the interest in St John Ambulance over a number of years and he was created a Knight a few years ago, in the Order.

‘Civic affairs occupied his attention as a member of the Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board from 1947 to ’53 and he has been the Board’s Sinking Fund Commissioner since 1955 and its Depreciation Fund Commissioner since 1954.   His business acumen was of value to the Hawke’s Bay Retailers’ Association and its Chairman from 1944 to 1946, and he was a councillor of the New Zealand Retailers’ Federation for four years from 1944.  He was also a past member of the Hawke’s Bay Employers’ Association.  Mr Jones was a past Executive member of the Hawke’s Bay Automobile Association and a member of the Executive of the Royston Hospital.  It was during the last War that his very generous nature was so much in evidence in addition to his work as a member of EPS executive.  He was prominently associated with the Hastings Patriotic Committee and he was a great financial supporter of the Fund Sessions which raised so much money for soldiers’ comforts during the war. No worthy cause was neglected by Mr Jones whose helping hand was always extended when it was most needed. In recognition of his services to the community he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Coronation Medal.  A man’s man whose word was his bond and whose principles were high, Mr Jones will be greatly missed in the community he served so well.  He is survived by his wife and four sons, Messrs Ross, Stuart, Bryce and Richard, all of Hastings.’

I’d like to add there that the reason my father, Jim, didn’t go to the Second World War was that as a boy he had rheumatic fever and so was incapable of going overseas.  To counter that he gave much to his community through the services we’ve talked about.

Now just a little bit of more recent history although still going back a bit to go back to some of the details.  Matt Johnson Ltd and Bon Marche Ltd lasted from 1897 to February 1995.  We had past Chairmen of the company – Matt Johnson was chairman from 1897 to 1928, James F Jones 1931-1959 and my eldest brother, Ross D Jones from 1960 to 1994.  Past Directors of the company were Matilda Alice Johnson who was Matt’s wife, my grandmother; George Murfitt, who was a long-time friend and worked for the company for over fifty-five years, was an early Director. Hinemanu Jones, my mother, was a Director and then Stuart Jones my brother, Bryce Jones my brother, and Ross Jones my brother, were all past Directors.  And then finally, being the youngest, the present Board came on – I became the Managing Director and Julie Jones my wife and Simon Jones my son took over the Board in the latter years.

We had some wonderful staff over the time, many working for us for well over thirty years … as I said about George Murfitt’s fifty-five.  But there were ones like Amy Bourke who was our tea lady – although we called her the managing director – she was a marvellous woman who handled all the tearooms area, the alterations area.  She must have altered I don’t know how many dresses and curtains and everything for various member of the community.  We had other members who were with us well over thirty years and it was more a family rather than a business, and we regarded all the family members as part of the whole association we had with Bon Marche.

Over those years brother Bryce was the promotions manager of the store and we participated greatly in all the activities that went on over the time in Hastings.  There was the 100-year centenary, but we had our own promotions.  We had over sixty staff in Hastings in the heyday, and then when we opened Napier we had over thirty staff in Napier, so it was quite a big organisation in its heyday.  But we had the various promotions and we’ve got a number of photos that we can show to say how we did the dressing up for the 100 year celebration, for the Greater Hastings celebration.  We had a promotion called the ‘Latin Look’ where we promoted a fashion style for our ladies’ fashion area.

The store contained, by the way, various departments.  We had what we called our Haberdashery section which was all parts of … like knitting yarns, handkerchiefs, cottons; and then we had the Dress department which was dress materials and patterns; we had the Manchester department which was furnishings and sheets and bedding, and then we had Menswear and Boyswear with all the boys’ apparel.  We had the ladies Fashion area, and we also had Accessories like some toys.  So we covered most of the apparel field as far as a department store was concerned.

During that period you used to have a sale?

Yes, yes,

And that was really quite a function in Hastings wasn’t it – the Bon Marche sale?

It was indeed. We had two sales a year always – the summer sale was promoted after the Christmas holidays in January, and the winter sale was in June/July at the end of the winter season.  We made a specialty of these sales.  We would go and scour the markets in New Zealand for all the specials that we could find, so that we could produce some of the best prices that they’d find in the country, in our sales.  We used to gather large numbers of people coming in – as we can show you in photographs there – and before we opened in Napier we used to run buses from Napier as well, to boost the sale day activity.  In those days the Hastings store had what we called an ‘island window’, where there was a walk-around area in the front of the store with windows, and in that area we would provide in the winter, cups of soup sponsored by Wattie’s in those days, to the customers that arrived – some of them arriving around 2am in the morning and up till we opened the doors – we’d give them all a cup of hot soup.  And in the summer we had cold drinks for them before the doors opened.

One of our policies in our sales was that for the people that arrived early, we didn’t want them to miss out in the rush, so we would hand those early people tickets that they could buy one item that they’d come for, and we would save that item.  And that would just help in their association of what they came for, and didn’t get knocked over in the rush.  We used to have a remnant table in the fabric area which was like a hen and chicken area, because stock would fly in the air and people would grab each end of a product and say it was theirs. And so we’d have lots and lots of fun from that point of view.  We always enjoyed the sales because they were very busy times for all of us.  My father who was getting older at that stage, although he was only sixty seven when he died;  but we used to keep out in the back room a stretcher with blankets and things and he used his St John Ambulance background, because we quite often had people fainting. [Chuckle]  And so they would be well look after in the side room until they recovered.

The staff loved the sales, and we all worked together in the promotion – of the fact that people like Amy would have a lunch ready for us – we would provide the lunch and the staff would go up as they got time during the lunch hour, and there’d be a hot meal provided for them in the winter and a cold meal provided in the summer, but they could take time and relax a bit.  We had a staffroom that would accommodate about thirty and they would go up there and enjoy that lunch, well-cooked by Amy, so that the staff were just as important as the customers to us.

But one of the big factors that our father always taught us was that the association with the customers were vitally important and in the latter stages particularly we looked after the mothers with children.  We used to purchase the soft lollies that we had in boxes and we would regularly – management would regularly go round the store and if there were children in the store we’d be offering them sweets.  Probably in today’s sugar problem that mightn’t be so acceptable. [Chuckle]  But it was always a very popular action.

We also provided – outside of sale time in our special promotions – things in the Childrenswear department … like we had a talking tree – we had Graham Ellery’s help there who was a promotions person.  And the child could go up to this elaborate tree and talk into it and it would answer back with various messages.  So that was very popular in our Childrenswear section.  Also we had in our advertising – one of our most popular ads was the Apollo moon landing vehicle that we had in the store and pictures of we four boys surrounding it – I have a photo of it there – and that showed that we went anywhere for bargains.

Just one point while we’re talking about the staff and everything – now you didn’t open on a Friday night.

No. I can talk about that now. The association … back in my grandmother’s day, she became associated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church and so her daughters, both Hine and Manu, were both involved in the Seventh Day Adventist Church and that meant that the Sabbath was always from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.  So part of the influence that those women had on the store were that we didn’t open on Saturdays, or Friday nights after sunset.  So that became an important part, and it was an important part of the Jones family as far as their activities were concerned on Saturdays as well.  But in the latter stages when my mother passed away, we decided that those times had changed and we opened for the last few years on a Saturday.

The influence of course affected activities on a Saturday as far as … particularly the sporting activities.  Brother Stuart was the first that didn’t attend the Church, and of course he participated and went into the golfing world and became a national hero as far as golf was concerned, winning seven National titles in the Amateur field along with many other Club titles and International titles, the Canadian Amateur, and runner up in the Spanish.  So he was very involved in the golfing world.

But others of us – brother Bryce and I were heavily involved in the table tennis activity in Hastings over a number of years, and I was secretary of the Hastings Table Tennis Association and we used to run our Hastings tournament in the Assembly Hall in Hastings.  And at its peak we were drawing a thousand competitors. So it took about a week, and brother Bryce and I were fortunate to get to the top of the table tennis ladders and we both represented Hawke’s Bay and Hastings, and won several of the titles during that time.

Also skiing became an important facet for the family but particularly for me. I was involved … after I returned from England in 1956 … I was involved in the building and development of the Hawke’s Bay Ski Club, and over many seasons we enjoyed families up on the ski slopes of Ruapehu. And I was an early President and latterly a life member of the Skiing Association up there.  In more recent times it was carried on by my son, Simon and his wife Jay and both of those people now are life members of the Association, so it’s been a history of long association with the Hawke’s Bay Ski Club and we’ve enjoyed many happy hours with the family up on the slopes of Ruapehu.

Now, can we just pause for a second and go back to prior to marriage, you then met Julie Farrell.  Could you tell me about that?

Yep.  Julie and I were also keen tennis players and we played in the various tennis tournaments although my activity was restricted because of the Saturday in those years, which changed as I changed my allegiance away from the Church.

But Julie and I were married in … we met and were married in 1959 on the 27 August, and subsequently we had three children, Simon, Catherine and Philippa.  So we participated in the first house in Hastings, in Rangiora Street in Hastings and then we moved out to Havelock North, Simon was born in Hastings and the girls were born in Havelock North.

Julie’s father, Mr Farrell as we all knew him, he was a real estate … plus valuer. 

Yes, Bill Farrell, Julie’s father, was a real estate person and a valuer – and he was the Hastings City Valuer in Hastings for many years.  Both he and his wife Edna were also very keen on swimming.  They were both New Zealand swimming champions in their youth and held many records over that time, and in fact both carried on in the swimming world with the Trojan Swimming Club and things, and travelled around swimming in the various meets that they had and were successful at it, winning a lot of the age group championships right up until Bill’s death when he was ninety.  So that’s part of the family history.

Well, during your children growing up you obviously were involved with school committees and so forth – I certainly know you were Chairman of the Havelock Intermediate School Committee.

[Chuckle]  Yes, well we participated quite strongly in associating with our children particularly and it started at kindergarten. I remember I was on the Havelock Kindergarten Committee.  Julie was teaching at the time, but I was involved in the Havelock Kindergarten Committee with Keith Hulena who was President in those days.  Keith was marvellous because he did everything, and we as committee members just went along and said “yes”.  So that was wonderful and we met a lot of lovely teachers and the children really enjoyed the Havelock Kindergarten.  Daughter Pip went on and became a trained kindergarten teacher in the latter years too, so she had an association there.

We moved on then to the Havelock Primary where Julie was teaching too at the time, but I was a member of the Havelock Primary School Committee with a lot of well-known Havelock people, and then moved on again when the children moved to the Intermediate where Julie also taught – we moved on and became committee member of the Havelock North Intermediate School.  And then when … the girls moved to be the first day pupils – Catherine was the first day pupil … at Woodford House and so for the first time ever we had a Parents’ Association which we set up at Woodford House along with Brian James … was part of our team in those days.  So we went right through the school committee era along with the children and really enjoyed that.

If I could just go back to the Bon Marche at this stage and … just because I remember.  We had of course the terrible earthquake in 1931, and we’ve got pictures showing the building pre-1931, and then when the earthquake hit we’ve got a picture there showing how the Grand Hotel was demolished in front of the Johnson store.  And after that we moved to Heretaunga Street West where a store was built for my father.  And it was unique in those days in that it had the largest wooden trusses to make the width of the building that was built in Hastings at that time, so when one went and looked up in the ceiling you could see these enormous wooden trusses that stretched across the 30 odd feet of the front of the store.

Is that building still standing?

It’s still standing and when we closed its doors we sold the building, and it was taken over by the Social Security Department and its now empty – no I think it might be now a gymnasium.

Are you talking about Heretaunga Street East?  [Speaking together]

Heretaunga Street East was where we moved to. And in those days off course we had some pretty famous neighbours. There was the tailors … Mr Wright was a bespoke tailor, and he used to sit on his table as those people did in those days, and make up the men’s suits and whatever.  And his son I think it was, Cedric, ultimately became the manager of our Municipal Theatre.  So he was one of the neighbours.  Nutter’s Fashions were on the corner;  McDermott’s were around the corner with their leather and saddlery and canvas wear;  Ah Wing’s were next to us in their greengrocers;  Russell Orr was around the corner a bit too, before Hutchinson’s moved in around there.  So we had some pretty famous neighbours – Bunker’s Toys … Mr Bunker, and later Ivan Collett, was in the store opposite us there.  In those days when I came in after 1951, there were fourteen menswear stores in Heretaunga Street.  Now today there aren’t any family businesses left at all and I think Hutchinson is a more recent one that compared, but the hundred year group – I think the last one to go was Kershaw’s, although Bone’s I think is still operating in a smaller way in their hardware section.  It was always an interesting street to be in, Heretaunga Street, and there were a lot of family companies.  The biggest of course was Roach’s and Westerman’s – both department stores for apparel.  And Roach’s, of course in the early days, also had groceries.

We had strong associations with all the families.  Gordon Roach was mainly instrumental in me becoming part of the New Zealand Retail Federation, and I took over from Gordon.  At the time we had what was called the Retailer Publishing Company making monthly retail news magazines – I followed on from that, but I was also heavily involved – from 1968 I was president of the National Retailers’ Association and was a director and activist in many of their committees including the Award Negotiation Committees for a number of years, that we used to attend with a number of other of our other retail friends.  So, that became my major activity as far as the company was concerned. I looked after the retail committee and promotional side of the business.  Brother Bryce was St John as I said, brother Ross did trustee work in Royston and other areas, and Stuart did his golf.  It worked out all very successfully.

Now if we could just jump back a stage … while the family were growing up you went skiing, you obviously played tennis – were there any other sports?  Did you go away to Taupo?  What did you do for your leisure time?

Yes we … well personally, while the children were young, we were playing table tennis in the midweeks, and we played a lot of tennis.  Julie was a Hawke’s Bay representative and champion in those days – in those early days of our marriage.  She was also the runner up of the New Zealand Squash B Grade Championship, so we had … and with swimming we had a lot of sporting activity and the various golfing activities.  We all played golf from the time we left school, and I managed to win a couple of the Club championships, so that kept our interest going in the sporting world.  And we, as a company, supported a lot of sports activities.  We supported the swimming carnivals, and we had in the business, carnival time – we had teams, because we had two or three – Bob Frater and Robbie Grubie  – who were swimming champions locally.  They all participated with our Bon Marche team in the various activities.  Mahora School of course, where we were schooled as boys – we used to participate in the carnivals in the old Mahora School pool as well.

Yes, you grew up in Waipuna Street was it?

No, no – St Aubyn Street.  We were in St Aubyn Street and we’d often walk or bike to Mahora School.  All of us went through Mahora School, and then brother Stuart was the only one that didn’t go onto the Hastings High School.  He went to Wellington College because he was a bit of a naughty boy, and so our parents thought it would be better for him to go and board in Wellington.  And it was interesting – on a couple of occasions I’d see him walking down the drive during school weeks and he’d come home with what they called the hairbrush measles – measles for himself and came home. He spent some years at Wellington College, we other boys went through Hastings High School.  And brother Ross went on to become a Master of Science, and during his time, which was during the war years, he used his degree and finished up down in Nelson with a Dr Arnott doing dehydration work for the American Army.  They were working on dehydrating fruit and plants down there to feed the Americans.  Brother Stuart – he finished up in Norfolk Island in the Air Sea Rescue area and after that went on and became a shepherd at Glazebrooks’ for a number of years before coming into work.  And brother Bryce – he took his accountancy degree and finished up in Rainbow & Hobbs in Queen Street.

My father died in 1960 and that changed the whole concept of what was happening at Bon Marche.  In 1961 we four brothers decided that we needed to expand – we were doing a lot of business with Napier people, and so we decided that we should open a store in Napier.  It took us quite a long time to find a suitable area;  we finally found one that we thought was all right in Hastings Street in Napier, and we opened the store in 1961 with the biggest crowd that had ever been seen in Napier since VJ Day.  And our store was opened by Selwyn Toogood, because in those days Selwyn Toogood used to come and he’d be our compere with fashion parades, or we’d be promoting fashion parades of our fashion department in the Assembly Hall when he was doing his ‘It’s in the Bag’ programme.  So that was very successful.  We were there for over thirty years and we expanded three times, Napier, in the times that we were there.  And then sadly it came to a close in … 1993 when we closed it.  Number of factors through both store closures, but in Napier particularly one of the main reasons that we were affected considerably was the fact that they moved the Social Welfare Department from the bottom of Shakespeare Road.  They moved that away where mothers used to go and get their benefits.  And they’d collect their benefits and walk straight down half a block, and we were the first childrenswear department store that they could shop in.  And so when they moved the Social Welfare Department away from that area that dramatically affected our children’s wear sales.

The other was the rise of the big block stores – The Warehouse and K Mart, and also the growth and development of the supermarkets, because at that time the supermarkets were expanding from being just dairies on the corners of our various blocks, into the bigger supermarket stores.  And they started selling not only their food but a lot of items like nursery squares and flannels and towels and activities like that, that we were quite large in.  And it was much easier for a mother and she didn’t have to explain to father either when she threw towels and nappies and squares into her supermarket trolley, as to why so much money was going in that area.  As I said that became part of the supermarket sales and that affected us quite substantially too.

So times changed, actions changed, service changed – it became the checkout type operations and less help at the counter, whereas we had strong influences through our staff, as I say sixty in our heyday in Hastings, towards service.  And it was important that we taught the staff to look up and say “good morning”, and smile and things when people came into the store.  And people felt comfortable when they came into Bon Marche.

Always remember Bon Marche ‘cause you’ve always talked about it as being a family shop, but it actually had a family atmosphere and that was obviously the staff and management that created that.

Yes, it was.  We certainly … we couldn’t do it on our own, and I think that comes back to what I said earlier – that we had a lot of long standing staff who had been with us for, you know – it’s pretty good to have staff there that are over thirty years working with you, and as I say, one over fifty five years.  So it was, you know, one of those things that we encouraged.  And I have to say that we were just fortunate as a family that the staff were so good, and we had some marvellous sales people.  Hopefully we recognised them as they recognised us as the management.

When we closed Hastings in 1995 we had this register where people wrote their thoughts and we’ve got many pages here of what the customers felt. There’s one here from one of our ex-staff, 1948 and ’50:  ‘I had done so well, so your father came and said to me … offered me five shillings extra per week, but to be sure to work just as hard or harder.’  Pop Evans who was in our Furnishings department eating his raw eggs in the cubby hole – in those very early days we didn’t have a tearoom, so each staff department had their own little morning tea area, and there were various cubby holes around the store where they had their morning and afternoon teas.  And Henry Dann, explaining to me about the devils, about Pop noticing how a sales girl had missed a small winceyette sale, brought them back from the street entrance.  ‘I sold them hundreds of blankets, kapok mattresses, sheets – the lot.  It’s all been fun, so sorry that it’s all closed.’  There’s dozens and dozens of payments here.  One family had six generations shopping with us, so we had a lot of good support and activity that went on during that time.

The thing was that you had that support going while you were open and this just re-emphasises what they thought of you, doesn’t it?

That’s right yep, yep.  But it was important too, we felt as management, with the brothers that we all had our own activities.  Mine was the President of the Retailers’ Federation in 1968, although prior to that I was also president of the Hastings and Hawke’s Bay Retailers’ Association, and for those efforts I was given a life membership of the Hawke’s Bay Association, and then in 1980 I was also made a life member of the New Zealand Retailers’ Federation.  And thirty years on I was given a commendation as well, because I’d carried on in Wellington working on the various committees and things.  It was a wonderful era because I met so many wonderful retailers that were all around the country and we used to have a conference every year, a Retailers’ conference which Julie and I attended.  And we just made so many friends from North Cape to the Bluff, and it was a time when you could go into any city in the country and you’d know somebody that was in the retail world.

Just stop there for a second – I just note here that when you were elected National President of the New Zealand Retailers’ you were the youngest ever president at 35 years old.

That’s it, yes.  Yes, I superseded some of my colleagues that were a bit upset about that because they were the youngest at the time, and so I managed to come in under them, but we had wonderful times there with the secretary that used to work in Wellington.  We had strong associations, and in my year as President I travelled the country speaking to a number of organisations as we went around.

In 1986 my mother died, aged 85, and that changed things particularly as far as the activities towards the Church were concerned, and we felt that we were obligated to look after her attitudes at that time.  But after 1986 we decided that the Church wasn’t relevant to we boys, and so that changed the activities that we participated in as far as the store was concerned.

In 1988 wife Julie was National President of the New Zealand Outward Bound Association.  She was very keen in that area and was very involved in that wonderful activity which looks after young people.  And our family have all been through an Outward Bound course which, on anyone’s CV, is a wonderful thing to have, and so she is still active and is one of the guardians of Outward Bound to this day.  As an aside there too, our granddaughter Annabel, has just done three seasons guiding on the Milford Track as part of an outdoor activity that she was very interested in, and has guided many hundreds of tourists through that Milford Track area.

That’s interesting, because last Friday I interviewed Buster Harker.

Pompalona House was where they lived for I think three seasons or more, and then they moved to where the hot springs are.

Our Rotary Club of course in Havelock North sponsored many, many people.

That’s right.  The Rotary Clubs were marvellous as far as sponsorship was concerned to Outward Bound.

‘Cause we used to give full sponsorship back those days, but now of course it’s so expensive …

Well that’s right.

… we have to share it with the family.

That’s it. So, we move on – in 1993 as we said we closed the Napier store and in 1995 we closed the Hastings store.  I was fortunate at that time that the District Council elections were in 1995 so I decided that I needed something to pursue and use my expertise, so in 1995 I was fortunate to be elected to the Hastings District Council.  And I spent twelve years on the Council and was not re-elected in 2007, but in that time I participated in many of the committees as Chairman and part of the committee.  In 2001 I was fortunate to go on a visit to our sister city in China – and you’ve been there too, Frank I think, haven’t you, to Guilin?  And in 2004 I also went again, back to China and that was most interesting, particularly from a retail aspect, to see what they are selling in stores, how they manage their stores and activities over there.

So, there were a number, as I said earlier, of other retailers in Heretaunga Street.  And Hugh Baird used to be the Secretary of the Hawke’s Bay Retailers’ Association for a number of years, as was Trevor Roach.  So they’re two names that were very strong in the retail field in Heretaunga Street.  And Ron Giorgi of course was Mayor for a number of years, and Giorgi’s. And Giorgi’s – when you see the photos of Johnson’s … there was Westerman’s, Matt Johnson and Giorgi’s building there. I’m not certain, but I think they came from Palmerston North – and Millar & Giorgi, and I think the Millar’s were in Palmerston – and so there was Millar & Giorgi and they were next door to Matt Johnson’s old store.

Then we’ve got other activities – some of our earlier staff – we’ve got a photo there of our earliest staff, one of which is Miss Mabel McCormick, and her nephew I think, lives in Waipukurau, or lived in Waipukurau.  She was one of our earliest staff and she went down to Dunedin.  She lived to 105 and we were able to host her at one stage back in the store. It was fascinating just to hear her story there as part of the early activities.

Characters went on … George Murfitt who was with us for fifty five years – we’ve got a photo of him here – that’s George there.  He was great mates with Ces Vidal of Vidal’s fame with the winery and sherries and so forth.  And George used to go fishing with Ces in Taupo, and one of his famous stories is that they went out on Taupo and got out through the heads there and went to have their gin and water, or whiskey and water, whatever they had at that stage, and said “we have to go back because we’ve forgotten the water”.  So, of course they could have just leant over and helped themselves to that beautiful Taupo water.

But he also used to joke about when people … as we did in those days, we had people coming in asking for donations and help, and money.  And one of George’s activities there would be to take them aside and say “look, we’d love to help you, we’d love to give you some money, but we’ve just made a pact with our Bank Manager and he’s promised us not to sell clothes if we don’t lend money”.  So, he had all these sayings going on.  And he was a bit of a character because in those days we had a lot of sales representatives coming around and selling us goods, and they’d always come round with their suitcase full of samples.  And George’d get it aside when they weren’t looking and then put in a whole lot of our cash receipts or whatever, inside the suitcase.  And of course when they went to the next store and opened it up, out came all the Bon Marche cash receipts and things that he’d stacked in there.

And the other classics were – in the big windows we had facing Heretaunga Street he would often stand in the window, and when the ladies were looking in through the glass to see what was in the store window, George would stand stock still until all of a sudden he’d wave at them or something like that and they’d get an awful fright.

But we had some wonderful window sessions, dressing.  Grace Hunt was another one who dressed a lot of our windows.  We won a lot of prizes in the Blossom Festival.  Here again, because of the Church we didn’t put floats in because it was on the Saturday, but we participated fully in dressing our windows up, and Cyril Naylor was our window dresser at the time – he was very good on screen printing and that sort of thing. And the staff all got together and made the paper blossoms and we decorated all our windows and store frontage for the Blossom Festival with special activities, and consequently we did win many prizes and it was a popular area for visitors to look at during the Blossom Festival.  Part of the staff – we had our own window dressing and signwriting department. I think we only had five over all the years that I can remember.  The first one was Ron Smith, and Ron was very clever with his display and ticket writing.  Because we wrote all our own tickets in the store and part of the store activities were that we sign wrote every item we had in the store.  We had a sale sign on the bin or the table or whatever it was, for it, so there was a lot of work in signwriting.  And they were all very clever in the way they did their activity –  Ron Smith – he went on eventually and became manager of a big department store in New Plymouth, and Jack Hawke – when he came back from the War, Jack was another one that wrote tickets for us.  Cyril Naylor was our more recent signwriter and he was very clever in the screen printing activity. And we did a lot of hanging, big hanging signs, metre square type thing.  If we were doing special promotions we would do those signs in whatever the special promotion was, clowns or whatever and when they were finished we used to hand those on to the Akina Handicapped School.  We used to give a lot of our promotional material to them for their activities including our talking tree … went to the Akina Handicapped School.  So we made use of all those activities. Also I think a lot of the Honours Boards around through the various schools that we were associated with were all gilt finished by our signwriter, who used to go out and fulfil the Honours Boards there.

Now just one area in your adventure into local body politics – I know you were very influential in bringing about the joint exercise when Napier and Hastings worked together for the dump out at Omarunui.

Oh yes.  Yes, the landfill – I got very enthusiastic about the landfill and its development, and we were fortunate in having the bureaucrats at that stage that were very good on it, but no I did.  We had to expand the landfill at Omarunui – so the present valley was filling rapidly and so we did lots of exercises about developing a new valley.  And I was very keen because the original valley was filling up, and at that time my predecessors had piped it for methane gas and it was producing methane gas.  And when we built the new valley we planned to put in pipes so that the new valley would also produce methane, which is I think half full by now I would say.  The Council in its wisdom just recently – long since my retirement – has agreed to go ahead with a generating plant to activate the methane.  Well, we looked at that back in … must have been 2004 or thereabouts … when I was chairman of the Landfill Committee.  It was a most interesting activity and hopefully that will go on and ultimately produce electricity.  We were told by the experts that you’d probably be able to light up Taradale or something for the electricity that it could produce at the time.

Now, during this period with the Council you developed many new friendships that ended up … you becoming a sailor, you became …


… a traveller up into …

Phuket.  Yes, well Norm and Jan Speers became very close friends, through Council association, and the four of us travelled for a number of years until sadly, Jan’s death last year.  They were great company, we all four of us got on very well. I think we’d been to Phuket probably half a dozen times together.   Norm is very good on driving and he drove us through Europe for I don’t know how many thousand kilometres, right through from the tip of France down to the tip of Portugal, and we had a marvellous time with those activities.  So that association was very good.  But the association, like all these things, colleagues on Council – we all became very close friends because over a twelve year period we were meeting very regularly, we were on various activities, we didn’t always agree. In fact I occasionally was on the outer because I didn’t agree with the majority rule, and I felt that what I wanted to do was to look after some of the activities that I didn’t agree with.

Looking back at that period you were on, it was a growth period for Havelock North, Hastings and the environs wasn’t it?

That’s right.  It was just after Havelock had amalgamated with Hastings and Havelock had a lot of opportunities.  I’d have to say there was a little bit of antagonism between the Hastings people and the Havelock people that Havelock might be getting too much.  One of the big activities was over parking meters of course, and I had a very long battle on that because the Hastings people were upset that they had to have parking meters in their central business district and we didn’t have them in Havelock.  And unfortunately, and I think foolishly in my view, they forced a rate upon the Havelock people.  My argument was well Havelock people are travelling into Hastings and using the parking meters in there and the funds that they contribute there should have offset anything that we might have missed in Havelock.

They’re using the funds in Hastings, or they use the majority of the funds to change the parking for the new hotel in the village.


So, you know, at the end of the day everybody pays – no one gets out of it.

Absolutely, absolutely – it all certainly is there, and I felt very strongly that to put in parking meters would alter the attitude of people shopping in Havelock North.  And I think everybody would agree that it’s much nicer to be able to go and park where you want to for five minutes or half an hour or whatever and not have to worry about whether you are going ot be checked on and …

You must have a sense of pride when you go down to the village these days and see that development that happened during your watch.  Havelock wouldn’t have grown, it wouldn’t have had the cafe culture – it was set up for … it was perfect timing wasn’t it?

It was, yes, and you know, we were criticised at the time when we encouraged the development of the roundabout on Porter Drive from Middle Road, which is now a key access to Havelock.  And the redevelopment of the village as you say, so that there’s areas where tables can be put out on the footpath, the footpaths are widened, and the grapes growing – the grapes are a marvellous …

Everything looks a picture.

… thing there. I think Havelock you know, has grown enormously in the last fifteen years or so – all to the better in my view, although we used to be hit with a nimby attitude often on many of the development ideas, that ‘it’s not going to be in my backyard’ sort of thing, and ‘we want it to stay the same’.  I remember the removal of all the brick walls around the gardens when they did the alterations, and of course those brick walls were the bane of some elderly … so the changes were all for the better there, and I’m sure those ladies are happy not to have them around that area.

So no, the twelve years I had on Council were very happy years and it was a very educational from my point of view. The bureaucrats do a good job and virtually run the show, and the councillors are there for the contact between the people and the Council.  And as I say, I felt that the jobs that we were all asked to do were vital ones and I think the majority have carried them out particularly well.  And I admire the Councillors that are carrying on in the activities because it can be a pretty thankless task at times, particularly if you promote for example, smaller sections in Havelock North and some of the houses that were built.  I remember in one of the streets that I got lambasted for …

Reynolds Road.

Yes.  And as we tried to point out at the time, well the regulations allowed it, the planners approved it, and there wasn’t a lot as Councillors that you could do.  The bureaucrats had followed it through.  And there was also the question of multi-storeyed building down in our dairy here in Lindsay Road, and things – and the corner near Simla – several things that you could fight against but if it …

And I suppose you’ve given up golf now haven’t you?

No, no, I still play with the oldies, although not very well because I’ve had a hip replacement and a knee replacement and arthritis comes in at eighty two. The  Hastings Golf Club at Bridge Pa had many retailers from Heretaunga Street as members.  And if I can just name a few of the families that were heavily involved in retailing but also enjoyed golf – there was the Roaches, the Blackmores, the Bairds, the Poppelwells, the Thomsons, the McDonalds, the Christies, the Joneses of Monarch Motors, Bradshaws, and of course there were many lawyers and farmers and doctors that were all part of the Golf Club in those years, and it was a pretty social and sporting era.

But the new era at Bon Marche came in with my son Simon, taking over my brother Stuart’s role as men’s and boyswear buyer in 1992.  With the retirement of Bryce and the death of brother Ross in 1995 Simon became a director along with Julie, and me as managing director. Simon’s earlier experience was first in the health sector, then as a store manager for Hannah’s in Wellington, and finally, advertising sales in the Sun newspaper in Hastings.  All this stood him in good stead for his roles at Bon Marche.

In their junior years his sisters, Cathy and Pip, made holiday money folding garments ready for marking.  Catherine is currently a case manager in the Health Department in Auckland and Pip lives in Mosgiel in the South Island and is an early childhood teacher.

The store over the years had many wonderful staff members and it’s hard to remember so many of their names.  I’ll mention a few that I can remember but I know I’ll miss many out of this list.  But for example, in the Napier store when we first opened over there, Len Dadson was our first Napier manager.  He was heavily involved in repertory, so a lot of the fun activities we did in the Napier store were encouraged by him, in dressing up and shows and all that sort of thing, in Napier.

Was he a member of the Frivolity Minstrels?


I remember his name

Yes.  He was part of Negro Minstrels and all that sort of thing that they did.  So he was a strong part of that.  He was followed … Rod McBean took over his role.  Rod had started with us in Hastings then moved into the management role at the Napier store.

But I also mentioned in my earlier statements about signwriting and ticket writing and display, which was a very important part of our business because right through the stores we made sure that everything was easily identifiable and marked with A10 size sign written signs of what it is, the value, the price and everything like that.  And at sale time of course, we would have had probably two or three hundred tickets printed up in our display department.

And one of the ones I think I missed out in the earlier discussion was Harold King.  He did a great job for us up there.  All these sign writers and ticket writers worked away upstairs in the back of our Hastings store and produced all these hanging signs and tickets for the garments and all that sort of thing.

But there were a lot of people – in our alterations and curtain making area we had three women upstairs in the Hastings store doing alterations, making … we did a lot of curtain making, I remember we put curtains in quite a few of the school halls.  This is major jobs, and these ladies worked away.  And Mrs Crawford was one of our earlier ones.  She lived here in Havelock North and did a great job.  Amy Burke was more recent and she followed up as well as being our tea lady.

Rona McCarthy’s name’s been in the news a bit lately because she was an athlete in the Empire Games.  She was one of our early ladies that worked at Bon Marche. And in the office area – small office – just three women could sort of squeeze in there because we had a big safe and a small office area, and one fronted the front desk and the other two worked in the back, because we had Accounts, and we had about four thousand accounts that they had to administer and look after during the sales times. And Ngaire Compton and Thelma Batkins … Thelma Bjoingaard … she was, and Val Yule – they were in the office … the mayor’s mother.  They were in the office for a number of years.  They were always wonderful in keeping us well-informed – we boys well-informed, of mother’s birthday or father’s birthday or some activity that that we should be participating in, they had us down to a tee and were able to keep us fully involved in the area.

Owen Sinclair was another one that always said … he used to come up to me and say how much he appreciated our father as an employer because he really looked after Owen.  And of course Owen followed … he was strongly in St John Ambulance along with the family, so he was one that really enjoyed working at Bon Marche.

But there were people … if I could just name a few here, like David Harris – he was one of our seniors.  David went on to Queensland ultimately to manage quite a major store in a Mall over there … since has died unfortunately.

But Cyril Ireland was with us for a long time in our menswear department.

Nancy Walters managed our fashion section in Napier for many years and was a very great supporter of brother Ross in the buying of women’s fashion.

Tui White was another one, and Betty Matthews was another one I remember.  Betty was in charge of our children’s and baby’s wear section for many years. In fact I think Betty came back to us over three times on three different occasions to work for us, but she would have been with us for twenty or thirty years over the time.

Anne Greer, Barbara Strachen, Jillian Jobey and Glenda Markeith.  Jillian and Glenda were great mates and they were in the office there too in the latter stages.

Maurie Dunn was a great salesman in Napier and his nephew came to work for us as well.

Is Maurie Dunn the motorcyclist?

No, different Maurie Dunn.

Betty Howard, Erina Griffiths is still very supportive.  She’s one of the organisers of the … along with Barbara O’Sullivan and a few other ladies … that still get together and have their little tea functions as part of the old staff get-togethers.  Peggy Brazier was another one, Patricia Davies, Ethel Gibbs. Sophie Henderson came in at a later stage as one of our fashion buyers and co-ordinators. Shona Moss was in the office, Yvonne Osborne was in the office for a long time with us.  Ann Scott;  Doreen Parks was one of the very early ones.  She was a great girl, full of fun and a good salesperson there.  Roy Patheyjohns was all part of our menswear sales team.

They were just some of the names that came up and some of them signed our closing store memorandum that we had when things shut down.  They were the main ones that helped us out in the more recent times, and as I said earlier – it was more like a family rather than boss and worker because we all worked on the floor.  As our father used to say “Look, your business is done on the floor, not in the office, so keep all that going out there and have your association with your customers.”  So that was the sort of way we handled it in those days and it worked very well.

Thank you Richard.  Well I think that completes the story of your life and your family. So thank you.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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