Newspaper Article – ‘Cash rolled in like water’

‘Cash rolled in like water’

After four years of war and an influenza epidemic, Bay residents shopped till they dropped in 1919

Michael Fowler
Historic Hawke’s Bay

After years of World War I ending in 1918, and a deadly influenza pandemic later that year, the people of Hawke’s Bay (and the rest of New Zealand and most of the world) were a year later in December 1919 beginning to shrug off the horror of those years.

Christmas of December 1919 would not bring the telegram boy to the door to deliver sombre news from far-flung lands, nor would the flu pandemic require them to restrict their movements – or cause death in their households. They could go Christmas shopping without any fear. And shop they did – the post-war boom was on.

Napier on Christmas Eve of 1919 was said to have been the busiest on record and “the main thoroughfares were packed with a prosperous looking, joyful concourse of people”.

Shopkeepers in Napier struggled to keep up with the rush of shoppers and although the prices were said to be as high as they had ever been “cash rolled in like water”.

One shopkeeper sold out of all his pre-war stock at top prices and was said, “to be a very satisfied man at the close of the day’s business”.

Over in Hastings, business was just as good with “parading throngs of people making purchases for the Christmas holidays” and business was said to be “phenomenal”.

Prices were also high in Hastings, with one shopkeeper saying “one could ask what one liked and get it. I did more business this Christmas Eve than I did for the whole week preceding Christmas last year.”

In Hastings and Napier there was an absence of Christmas decorations, and it appears from 1914 to 1918 very little, if any, were put up likely due to the subdued environment from World War I.

Just like today, children eagerly awaited presents on Christmas Day.

Some of the best children’s toys in the world were made in Germany – the world’s most pre-eminent maker of toys at the time of World War I.

German-made imports, including toys were, not surprisingly, embargoed by Britain during the war.

This created a British toy industry never seen before as the providing of toys to children in wartime was seen as a major boost – especially in the creation of toy soldiers and board games.

Richard Steiff was a master teddy bear maker from Germany, but British or Commonwealth children playing with German teddy bears was forbidden, so Britain made its own, patriotic teddy bears.

Roachs Emporium in Hastings (where Farmers is now) invited customers to take the electric lift upstairs to see their toys, which included tricycles, prams, go-carts, wheelbarrows, Meccano sets and dolls.

One hundred years later on the same site, you can still take a lift up to the toys department at Farmers.

Hall’s in Hastings, another toy seller, sold toys for children including tennis rackets, balls, permodelle (coloured modelling wax), trumpets, dolls, wheelbarrows and tricycles.

The good people of Waipawa and Waipukurau were busy shopping as well, amid “an air of happiness and prosperity”.

In Waipawa people’s shopping was said to have taken longer as “the whole town seemed to be astir to bid each other good cheer”.

On Boxing Day Hastings was almost deserted as about 3150 of the 8500 population went by train to Napier’s Mardi Gras festival and it was thought the same amount “motored” over to Napier. During World War I, the Mardi Gras had been dormant.

Life at Christmas time had now been restored to a sense of normality, at least in the meantime.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all my readers. Over the holiday period I’ll be putting out my favourite stories of 2019.

“In Waipawa people’s shopping was said to have taken longer as ‘the whole town seemed to be astir to bid each other good cheer’.”

Michael Fowler has two of his books for sale at the Christmas Bazaar at Arts Heretaunga in Heretaunga St – Historic Hawke’s Bay ($65) and From Disaster to Recovery: The Hastings CBD 1931 – 53 ($15)

Michael Fowler ([email protected]) is contract history researcher and writer.

Photo caption – Santa promotes Moss, Doll Doctor in Emerson St, Napier. The note on the back of the photograph says, “One of the Moody Boys about 1926”.

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