Newspaper Article 1990 – Never out of print on these shelves

Saturday, October 6, 1990

Never out of print on these shelves

Staff reporter, Hastings

It’s not just tradition which keeps a family business in business.

“Keeping up with the times is important. You can‘t live in the past,” says Byron Foster Brook, third generation owner of the bookselling firm of Hastings.

He has no trouble balancing modern business practices with traditional ones which stretch back to the turn of the century.

Three years ago, an indication of Byron’s business thinking, Paper Plus, was added to the name. Paper Plus is a national buying group of which Byron is chairman.

“Not so long ago our prices were higher than a big national competitor. Now, with bulk buying, our prices are extremely competitive,” he said.

Bookselling is a whole new ball-game today.

Byron says in his grandfather’s trading days he, like a large number of other booksellers in Hastings, had a clientele – and successive generations of families would continue to patronise their favourite bookshop.

“We are more like other retailers today. We still have what could be called a clientele but we also have a lot of people just browsing. We like that,” he said.

Hastings on the move

Retailers are optimists, Byron said.  He believes Hastings is bubbling again – going forward in leaps and bounds.

“There’s a different atmosphere in the city now.  Business is good.”

Foster Brook was first owned by a Mr Burrell and opened in 1884 in premises now occupied by the Jewelry Factory.

Foster Brook, a Yorkshireman, meanwhile was trading as a news agent in a bookshop in Sydney.  He later moved to Woodville.

He came to Hastings in 1902 and a year later bought Mr Burrell’s business.

There were many bookshops in Hastings then.  Gradually Foster Brook built up a clientele and his shop became a regular calling place for newspapers and magazine subscribers.

The Freelance and the Weekly News were popular and for many years Foster Brook was agent for the Dominion.

Foster Brook was also, like many other bookshops of the time, a lending library.  Byron thinks the library closed in 1958.

There was a team of paper boys later which had to be organised and for a smallish shop a huge stock of books.

“Books had to be ordered from England for six months or even a year and overseas magazines were often several months getting here,” said Byron.

“Now we can order on a monthly basis.”

Tough times

The Depression, then the I931 earthquake, were tough times at Foster Brook now owned by Foster‘s son Cyril.

Byron and Margaret have compiled an album of letters received from overseas publishers in l93l.

“News appalling. Praying you are all safe,“ said a cable from New South Wales.

“Please wire collect if any loss or injuries to booksellers,“ said Gordon and Gotch.

The New Zealand agent for publishers Casell and Company, Melbourne, wrote: “Cyril my lad, can we here at Lower Hutt do anything at all to help any of you?”

A. Wilme Collier Ltd, London, wrote: “It is with the greatest regret that we have received news of the earthquake in New Zealand and sincerely hope that you and your staff have personally not been affected and that you will suffer no great loss. It must have been a very terrible experience which we certainly hope will never recur. With respects. . . ”

D. Appleton wrote from D. Appleton and Co., London:  “It is with deep regret that we learn of the calamity that has overtaken your city.

We should like to convey our sympathy to you in this time of trouble and hope that if there is any assistance we can offer in a small way you will advise us…Sincerely yours.

Debt written off

George Allen and Unwin, London, wrote:  “We are most distressed to hear of the disaster that has befallen Hastings and Napier.  The most practical way of showing our sympathy seems to us to write off any outstanding debit balance against you in our books, and this we have done.  We trust that none of your family was among those who lost their lives.  Yours very truly…”

In fact, Byron understands the earthquake cost his father thousands of pounds and it was eight years or so before things were back to what they were.

The shop was destroyed and for a year Foster Brook traded out of temporary premises by the Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board.

When the shop was rebuilt it was one of the most elaborate art deco shops in Heretaunga Street.

It remained that way until 1969 when Byron, who bought his father out when he was 21 in 1966, decided the shop needed a new image.

The leadlight windows, which would now be a tourist attraction in the art deco revival that’s taking place, were taken to the dump.

Byron realises that many people would now regard that as a crime, but he has no regrets.

“A shop has to be an inviting place today, where people can feel welcome to browse.  I think we have that now”.

There was a move in 1981 to the old Westpac bank site east along Heretaunga St, and in 1985 another to where the shop is today.

One of the most noticeable changes of a bookshop of the 90s to bookshops of the past is the greeting card phenomena.

In Byron’s grandfather’s days there were three small drawers in one of the shop’s fittings in which cards were stored.  Now he has 15 metres of shelving display of cards designed for every possible occasion.

Byron has visited a Hallmark warehouse in Kansas City which serves the west side of the United States.

“Thirty-seven thousand cartons a day were distributed from the 85 acre warehouse.”

1939 card popular

Among them is a card first made in 1939 and still sold today.  It is a card illustrated with pansies.  There have been 25-million sold in the ensuing 51 years

Card sales make up 15 per cent of Foster Brook business today.

Byron did not start his working life in his father’s shop.

It was never expected that I should take over.  I was working in a bank when my father became ill.  The Public Trust ……the business …..was able to buy it.

Two years ago, when Marsden’s Bookshop, Napier, was up for sale Byron decided to buy.  His wife Margaret now runs it.

Foster Brook’s future as a family business looks assured.  Byron and Margaret have two sons who are already involved in the book industry.

So chances are Foster Brook will be a name which will continue after the year 2000.

Both Byron’s sons have Foster as their second names.

Marcus, 19, works for Wiljef, New Zealand’s largest stationery wholesalers in Auckland, learning that side of the business.  Paul, 17, is with the family firm.  He too will go to another allied firm to learn the ropes in the future.

Yorkshireman Foster Brook arrived in Hastings in 1902 and bought the bookshop off a Mr Burrell. His name lives on in the shop and in his great grandsons, Marcus and Paul, who both have Foster as their second names.

This is the final in our series on old family businesses of Hastings.

Photo captions –

All in the family. Paul, Margaret and Byron Brook with one of the newest titles on the shelves.

Admitting that the elaborate art deco frontage of the rebuilt shop would be a drawcard today, Byron has no regrets that he demolished it in 1966.

Hallmark’s million dollar card. Twenty-five million of them have been sold since the card was first printed in 1939.

The destruction of Foster Brook premises in the earthquake elicited help and concern from publishers around the world.

Original digital file


Business / Organisation

Foster Brook Ltd

Date published

6 October 1990

Format of the original

Framed document

Accession number


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