Bon Marche part of the Hastings scene for 89 years
AN ALL-TIME RECORD
The first day of this year’s Summer Sale was an all-time record in the history of Bon Marche. The first three would-be shoppers “bedded down” outside the store at 12.45am. and by the time the doors opened at 9am, they had been joined by literally hundreds of enthusiastic bargain-hunters. In fact, the consensus was that it was the biggest crowd ever seen at a Hastings sale opening. Why does Bon Marche consistently draw such huge sale crowds? Undoubtedly the prices – they’re amongst the best in New Zealand.
Matthew Johnson, a former deputy mayor of Hastings, and grandfather of the “Jones Boys,” opened the forerunner of Bon Marche, “Johnson’s,” in 1895. He ran the store under his own name until the middle 1920s when, because of illness, he appointed a manager. Why they changed the name then, no-one seems to know, but Bon Marche it became, and Bon Marche it has stayed. Staff members still get a laugh when parcels from outside the district are addressed to “Don Marsh,” “Bob March,” and even “Bon Smash!” Matthew Johnson had become a friend and counsellor to many of the Maoris of the day, and when his two daughters were born, he was asked by the elders of the Ngati Hinepare and Ngati Hinemanu to name them Hinepare and Hinemanu, which he did. Hinemanu – she’s always been called “Manu” – is the mother of Ross, Stuart, Bryce and Richard.
Matthew Johnson died in 1929, and his son-in-law, the late James F. Jones. took over the management.
He guided the store through its most difficult years – the Depression, the 1931 quake and the move to its present site from the Centrepoint block in 1936.
Stuart was the first of his sons to “join the firm” – for a few months in 1942, and then in 1945 after returning from overseas service. Eldest son Ross came into the business in 1947 after completing his Master of Science degree at Victoria University.
Youngest son Richard – he was later to become New Zealand President of the Retailers Association – came straight from High School in 1951, and Bryce – a chartered accountant – in 1953. The four “boys” assumed control of the business following their father’s death in 1960, and have worked as a very close and happy management team for more than thirty years now. Bon Marche is one of the last wholly family-owned third-generation department stores in Hawke’s Bay, and possibly the only one in New Zealand run jointly by four brothers.
Pictured above are the men behind Bon Marche during its 89 years in Hastings. The firm’s founder, Matthew Johnson, is shown lower left, and his successor, son-in-law James F. Jones, lower right. Behind them are the “Jones Boys” – left to right, Bryce, 31 years with the firm, Ross 37 years, Richard 33 years and Stuart with almost 40 years’ continuous service.
Six generations of loyal customers
When Mrs Helen Nankervis was in Bon Marche the other day, she reminded the Jones Boys that six generations of her family had been regular shoppers at Bon Marche. Her great-grandmother, the late Mrs Lucy Galbraith, was the first, then her grandmother, the late Mrs Helen Slater – her husband Charlie was a lifelong friend of the late Mr Jim Jones – then Helen’s mother, Mrs Nina Desha. Helen herself, her daughter, Mrs Barbara Bristow, and now Barbara’s two little girls. It is this sort of customer loyalty that has taken Bon Marche to the top, but the Jones Boys are the first to realise that loyalty must be earned, and they must be continually looking for the best possible merchandise at the best possible price – and backing it up with good service.
They’ll go anywhere for bargains
This photograph created more interest amongst readers than any other Bon Marche sale-promotion “ad.” What made it so good was the timing and the clever photographic work by Herald-Tribune staff. The Apollo astronauts had just splashed down. Bryce Jones was able to get an early photo of the splashdown, and had the Herald-Tribune backroom boys superimpose the Jones’ Boys heads for those of the astronauts, and used it with the caption – “They’ll Go Anywhere For Bargains, These Jones Boys.” The phones ran hot from readers wanting to know where they could see what they thought was a mock-up of the Apollo space capsule.
Selwyn Toogood fashion parades
Fashion Parades were “big business” for Bon Marche back in the days when Selwyn Toogood brought “It’s In the Bag” and “The Birdseye Show” to Hastings. Selwyn had asked the Jones Boys to put on fashion parades as the “first half” in his great give-away shows, and with Selwyn doing the compering, there were “captive audiences” of almost a thousand. Selwyn paid the Jones Boys a very nice compliment many years later when he travelled to Napier to officially open Bon Marche there on July 11, 1961. The crowd at the opening was said to be the biggest seen in Hastings Street since VJ Day.
The Blossom Festival years
This picture below captures something of the spirit of the Blossom Festival years. They were happy days, with fancy dress, races and tug-o-wars in the main street between competing blocks, and beautifully-decorated store fronts and windows. Pictured here are five members of the Bon Marche Menswear Department, the late Len Dadson, Merv Hill, the late George Murfitt, Cyril Ireland, and Ron Pocock. If Bon Marche was successful with its Blossom Week decorations, the late Ian Hickman could take much of the credit. He and Bryce Jones – they were very close friends – always worked-in together, but it was Ian’s know-how that put the “cream on the cake. Following the judging of store frontages and windows one year, the Herald-Tribune reported: “The judges referred to ‘the superb display’ of Bon Marche. Mr Boshier (one of the judges) said that if the town could rise to the point of civic pride where every shop was decorated similarly to Bon Marche and Hickman’s, Hastings would really have a world-beating Festival.”
Retailers’ youngest National President
Richard Jones, youngest of the Jones Boys, was elected President of the New Zealand Retailers Federation in 1965. He was then thirty-five, the youngest ever to hold the national office. His services to retailing have since been recognised with Life Membership in both the provincial and national organisations.
A LOVELY COMPLIMENT TO A LOVELY LADY
This is not a picture of Bryce Jones and his “harem”. Late last year, a group of Bon Marche “old timers” – if they’ll excuse the phrase – put on a surprise luncheon at the Angus Inn for Mrs Manu Jones, who, earlier that year, had celebrated her 82nd birthday. Many of them had worked for her husband, the late Mr Jim Jones. and five of them had been in the Bon Marche Marching Team of 1936. Some of them had worked at Bon Marche both before their marriage, and later when their families had grown up. It was a very happy “reunion,” and greatly appreciated by Mrs Jones. Mrs Jones is seated in the second row, fifth from left.
What they looked like in 1907
The good old days? I wonder how they felt on a 35-degree summer day in Hastings! This was the Bon Marche staff in 1907. Seated left to right – Mabel McCormick, Jack Bamforth, George Murfitt, Connie Hay, Maud Seymour. Standing left to right – Harry Sinclair, Jock McQuirk, Charles Kessell. George Murfitt began working for Matthew Johnson in 1905, was “right-hand man” to Jim Jones, and then worked with his four boys until he retired in December 1963, a period of 58 years! George was one of Hastings’ great practical jokers, and to have worked with him – “survived” might be a better word – was a privilege that many still cherish.