Revisiting the glory days of Gladstone Road retail

A trip into a different, and somehow more charming, world.

A trip into a different, and somehow more charming, world.

ALL DRESSED UP, 1960s STYLE: Mike Mulrooney in Venetian twist trousers and Cotswold tweed sports coat crosses a busy street in Gisborne’s shopping district.
AT THE ‘MECCA OF FASHION’ IN GISBORNE: Mike Mulrooney poses with some of the stock at Charlie Adairs in 1960.
SERVING MUM, DAD AND YOUNGER BROTHER: This 1957 photograph was not posed. Mike Mulrooney, 16, happened to be serving his mother Dorothy, father Bill and brother Ron when the Photo News photographer walked into Charlie Brown's Menswear.

NOT a shop was empty on Gisborne’s main street from Petties, on the Customhbouse Street corner, to Cobden Street in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Retail staff were immaculate. Menswear employees always wore a tie and the ladieswear staff were beautifully coiffeured, perfectly made-up and had faultless dress sense.

Adair Bros had a competition every Friday to be the best dressed. Mrs Hunter, the manager of the showroom, was a real lady and one of her staff, Peg Young, dressed as well for golf as she did for work — and at work she had the “wow” factor.

Mrs Hardwick — the manager of 5th Avenue Gowns by the Kings Theatre — was a tall, elegant lady who oozed class.

The staff at Melbourne Cash were always dressed impeccably, or else they would feel the wrath of Mr B. G. Morris. I had an affinity with this store as the mother of my late wife, Denise, was one of the original family. She was Dorothy Harkom Morris, and the nicest lady you could ever meet. She was also one of the very few people to ever call me Michael.

Other shops whose names come to mind —

• Exclusive Gowns (later to become Lucy May Fashions) in the Lowe Street-Customhouse Street block.

• Universal Furs in the same block. Nowadays how could anyone survive just selling fur coats, fur capes, fur wraps and full fox pelts (claws, head and all).

• Juliette Millinery in the “clock block” survived for years simply selling hats, gloves and scarves.

• Penny Hill Lingerie next to the Kings . . . run by a stunningly beautiful young lady of the same name. I’m certain she sold more lingerie to men than women.

One of my prized store memories was Day’n’Dance Wear, next to Woolworths. Mrs Baker ran the store. She and her husband won the NZ Gown of the Year award, I believe in the mid-60s.

I had sold my massive stamp collection to Mr Hutchings at Variety Bookshop to get enough money to buy an engagement ring. I was going to get engaged at Christmas to my darling Denise. However, I felt I needed to give her a proper Christmas gift apart from the ring. I went into Mrs Baker’s store, went through the racks of beautiful cocktail and party frocks, picked out two and asked Mrs Baker the price as they had nothing on the tickets.

She looked at me, I think to evaluate my worth, and said, “The purple one is £19 5s and the green one is £17 2/6”.

As I was earning only £18 a week, I asked if I could put them on lay-by. I paid them off, gave them to Denise on Christmas Day and then gave her the ring.

In those years, 13 stores sold ladieswear and associated accessories and nine stores sold menswear. Nowadays, how many can you count?

Destroyed by giant companies

To my mind, retail was crucified by the giant companies. They wanted Saturday trading; they got it. It was hard luck for the poor retailers whose children played sport on Saturday morning.

Friday night shopping was lost. This “family night” was the highlight of every retailer’s week, families, teenagers, pensioners were all there.

The throngs disappeared off our streets. Retailers were forced into sale mode in the heart of their seasons, large stores in almost continuous sale mode.

How is a local jeweller expected to compete when a national chain store offers a $1000 diamond ring for $300?

As a young lad, my dream was to be a doctor. My idol was Dr Cedric Isaac and I wanted to do what he could do. As I grew older, I realised my parents could never afford the cost of my training so I cast that dream aside.

At the age of 12 I got a job as messenger boy at Charlie Browns Menswear. I was told I could have a fulltime job when I left school, which I did on Friday, April 27, 1956. I turned 15 the next day and started work for £1 10s on Monday, April 30. I was there for three-and-a-half years learning the trade from people such as Mr Brown and Jack Smith.

These years proved to be the best education in retail that anyone could have had. I was taught that in the shop, the only person who matters is your customer. You must give the customer your complete and undivided attention . . . treat him or her with total respect and always do more than is expected of you.

I learned how to properly fold and stack trousers, shirts, knitwear. The only items on hangers were suits, jackets and coats. Piles of trousers had to be perfect and all in line. It is a habit I repeat in my own linen cupboard.

Just before I turned 19 I was asked to go and see Basil Adair at Charlie Adairs. I entered his store with trepidation, wondering what he wanted me for. He got right to the point and told me his manager, Brian Cowper, told him I would be a definite asset for his store: “Would you like to work here?”

Good grief, I was being asked to work at the Mecca of fashion in Gisborne. I decided “yes” immediately and went back to tell Mr Brown. He said I was doing the right thing and the move would be an advantage in my future in the retail trade.

Merchandise of quality

At Charlie Adairs I was overwhelmed by the quality of the merchandise — Anthony Squires suits; Sax Altman trousers; William Morton, Peter Maitland and Clarks shoes; imported knitwear; mohair rugs.

I struggled to take it all in. Upstairs, a ladies fashion department featured the best clothing available, beautiful Robin Mond shoes. It was staggering.

Behind the counter downstairs we had a bank of over 100 glass-fronted drawers. These held hundreds of cuff links, tie slides and tie tacks, studs, collars, scarves, imported Dents gloves in pigskin, soft calf leather and nappa leather. We had drawers of Stoffels Swiss cotton handkerchiefs, not Polos in cellophane packs. These were the best you could get.

One range they produced featured prints of Goldie paintings on the finest cotton imaginable. I obtained a complete set of 12 of these and kept them for years. After a few years, Brian Cowper left Charlie Adairs and crossed the road to join Jack Smith and Jim Eddy as a partner in my old haunt, Charlie Browns. I was made manager at the age of 24 and took over new duties under the expert tutelage of Mr Adair.

We had our own import licence and brought in Pringle knitwear, camel hair and cashmere topcoats, mohair rugs and Clarks shoes. I would receive the forward shipping documents, take out my list of potential clients and phone them to let them know what was on the way. I would sell 90 percent of the product before it arrived.

During my first five years at Charlie Adairs I began delving into the art of display. This is a word that seems to have been removed from the “retail dictionary” over the past 20 years. My major introduction to this art was a window display I did for the movie Grand Prix. I used tyres, flags, posters, trophies and model cars and created an item of great interest.

Bill Lane, the owner of New Zealand’s first licensed restaurant, The Chalet Rendezvous, asked me if I would create a display for him. He brought in bottles of Champagne, fine wines, Italian Chianti posters, and food “to burn”. A chicken cooked in pastry with head and tail feathers, a pig’s head complete with the apple, prawns in aspic, crayfish. The finished display created so much interest that people gathered three deep to view it.

I won a few awards, including an international competition, and a lady from New Zealand Retail came from Auckland to see my work. She asked me to do a display for her with an autumn theme and she would return the next day.

I biked to Stout Street, gathered hundreds of leaves and began. I created three stairways covered in velvet fabric (to hide the boxes I used) and placed three forms dressed in autumn clothing, leaning forward holding opened umbrellas as if they were walking into the wind. Leaves were everywhere and lovely shoes “trod down” the stairways.

Offer of display work

The lady returned the next day and couldn’t believe what she saw. She asked how I did it and I simply said, “Imagination”. She took photos and showed them around Auckland. Years later I was offered a job just doing display work in Auckland for $100 a window but I turned it down. Gisborne was my home and my future.

Charlie Adairs taught me that quality was paramount. Summit shirts carry the motto, “No one ever regretted buying quality”. Oscar Wilde had a saying, “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best”.

But the best saying on the subject, to my mind, is in Harrods of London: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”. (It has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin.)

Basil Adair sold his building around 1969 and Archie Christie asked me to go and work for him. This sortie only lasted for 11 months before I received a phone call from Holeproof (NZ) asking me if I would like to become their representative for the area covering Gisborne, Wairoa, East Coast and lower Bay of Plenty. This was something I had always wanted to do.

I took the job and performed my duties as capably as I could. I worked up as far as Edgecumbe, Te Teko and Kawerau, up the Coast to Ruatoria, down to Wairoa, and served all of the local retail outlets.

I topped New Zealand in sales of Manhattan shirts and worked all of the other divisions of Holeproof to a pretty high standard. After three-and-a-half years they decided to close the Gisborne branch and I was asked if I would move to any of six other areas they offered me. I turned them down.

Stuart Rosie heard what was happening and asked me if I would take over the running of his ladies department. I realised that would be a challenge but I took the bull by the horns.

To get things going, I walked the streets of Auckland searching out the labels I wanted. I would go into a store, go through the racks, remember names and addresses and go outside and record them in a notebook. Stuart was helpful and gave me plenty of leeway to do what I thought was necessary.

We began running fashion parades for clubs and charitable organisations, nearly always at the Sandown Park Hotel. I remember one show we ran for the Marist club. The Sandown ran out of chairs and people had to stand against the walls. We must have had 600 people there.

I built up an association with Ian Hammon of Hammon Jewellers and he would bring a case full of gold, silver and diamond jewellery for the models. As compere, I would talk about the “bling” as much as I mentioned the garments. One night one of our loveliest models, Marion, came out wearing almost a $100,000 worth of jewellery. I took nearly 10 minutes to get her off the floor as everybody wanted a “close-up”.

We carried some of the very best fashion labels — Sherwood, Peppertree, Society Fashions, Queens, Pauline Campbell, Jag, Ton Sur Ton, Daniel Hechter — all exclusive to Rosies.

Bernie Norman of B.C. Norman Homes came to me every Christmas, birthday and anniversary date and asked me to pick out two or three dresses for his lovely wife Fiona. I never had one returned.

After 17 years, Stuart wanted a change and I departed the scene and my lady staff took over the job. I was extremely grateful to Stuart for allowing me the opportunity to prove my worth.

Trevor Coombes from D.I.C. contacted me with the offer to take over the showroom-lingerie section on the first floor, which I did. I made changes, fought with head office to get the clothing and labels I wanted, and further success followed.

Wonderful windows

I did internal and window displays for them and things went very well.

Later on I did private display work for Sun City Pharmacy, where I won a national competition for Elizabeth Arden — Elizabeth Taylor “White Diamond” perfume — and I won a diamond for my darling Denise.

I worked on display for Gemtime Jewellers, Tony Field, Office Products Depot and Faye Marie. I won a few prizes for Fay Hay and at one stage a complaint was made that she was using a professional window dresser. How far from the truth was that.

A dear friend, Jan Dillon (now Mogford), took over as manager and she made me her assistant. I enjoyed working with Jan immensely.

And then Gisborne Herald advertising manager Sue Lawrence offered me a job where my experience gave me valuable insight into the needs of my new customers — the retailers themselves.

My life changed completely, but that is another story.

I had an amazing journey. I met and befriended some wonderful people and I shared every step of the way with the most incredible lady, my late wife Denise.

NOT a shop was empty on Gisborne’s main street from Petties, on the Customhbouse Street corner, to Cobden Street in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Retail staff were immaculate. Menswear employees always wore a tie and the ladieswear staff were beautifully coiffeured, perfectly made-up and had faultless dress sense.

Adair Bros had a competition every Friday to be the best dressed. Mrs Hunter, the manager of the showroom, was a real lady and one of her staff, Peg Young, dressed as well for golf as she did for work — and at work she had the “wow” factor.

Mrs Hardwick — the manager of 5th Avenue Gowns by the Kings Theatre — was a tall, elegant lady who oozed class.

The staff at Melbourne Cash were always dressed impeccably, or else they would feel the wrath of Mr B. G. Morris. I had an affinity with this store as the mother of my late wife, Denise, was one of the original family. She was Dorothy Harkom Morris, and the nicest lady you could ever meet. She was also one of the very few people to ever call me Michael.

Other shops whose names come to mind —

• Exclusive Gowns (later to become Lucy May Fashions) in the Lowe Street-Customhouse Street block.

• Universal Furs in the same block. Nowadays how could anyone survive just selling fur coats, fur capes, fur wraps and full fox pelts (claws, head and all).

• Juliette Millinery in the “clock block” survived for years simply selling hats, gloves and scarves.

• Penny Hill Lingerie next to the Kings . . . run by a stunningly beautiful young lady of the same name. I’m certain she sold more lingerie to men than women.

One of my prized store memories was Day’n’Dance Wear, next to Woolworths. Mrs Baker ran the store. She and her husband won the NZ Gown of the Year award, I believe in the mid-60s.

I had sold my massive stamp collection to Mr Hutchings at Variety Bookshop to get enough money to buy an engagement ring. I was going to get engaged at Christmas to my darling Denise. However, I felt I needed to give her a proper Christmas gift apart from the ring. I went into Mrs Baker’s store, went through the racks of beautiful cocktail and party frocks, picked out two and asked Mrs Baker the price as they had nothing on the tickets.

She looked at me, I think to evaluate my worth, and said, “The purple one is £19 5s and the green one is £17 2/6”.

As I was earning only £18 a week, I asked if I could put them on lay-by. I paid them off, gave them to Denise on Christmas Day and then gave her the ring.

In those years, 13 stores sold ladieswear and associated accessories and nine stores sold menswear. Nowadays, how many can you count?

Destroyed by giant companies

To my mind, retail was crucified by the giant companies. They wanted Saturday trading; they got it. It was hard luck for the poor retailers whose children played sport on Saturday morning.

Friday night shopping was lost. This “family night” was the highlight of every retailer’s week, families, teenagers, pensioners were all there.

The throngs disappeared off our streets. Retailers were forced into sale mode in the heart of their seasons, large stores in almost continuous sale mode.

How is a local jeweller expected to compete when a national chain store offers a $1000 diamond ring for $300?

As a young lad, my dream was to be a doctor. My idol was Dr Cedric Isaac and I wanted to do what he could do. As I grew older, I realised my parents could never afford the cost of my training so I cast that dream aside.

At the age of 12 I got a job as messenger boy at Charlie Browns Menswear. I was told I could have a fulltime job when I left school, which I did on Friday, April 27, 1956. I turned 15 the next day and started work for £1 10s on Monday, April 30. I was there for three-and-a-half years learning the trade from people such as Mr Brown and Jack Smith.

These years proved to be the best education in retail that anyone could have had. I was taught that in the shop, the only person who matters is your customer. You must give the customer your complete and undivided attention . . . treat him or her with total respect and always do more than is expected of you.

I learned how to properly fold and stack trousers, shirts, knitwear. The only items on hangers were suits, jackets and coats. Piles of trousers had to be perfect and all in line. It is a habit I repeat in my own linen cupboard.

Just before I turned 19 I was asked to go and see Basil Adair at Charlie Adairs. I entered his store with trepidation, wondering what he wanted me for. He got right to the point and told me his manager, Brian Cowper, told him I would be a definite asset for his store: “Would you like to work here?”

Good grief, I was being asked to work at the Mecca of fashion in Gisborne. I decided “yes” immediately and went back to tell Mr Brown. He said I was doing the right thing and the move would be an advantage in my future in the retail trade.

Merchandise of quality

At Charlie Adairs I was overwhelmed by the quality of the merchandise — Anthony Squires suits; Sax Altman trousers; William Morton, Peter Maitland and Clarks shoes; imported knitwear; mohair rugs.

I struggled to take it all in. Upstairs, a ladies fashion department featured the best clothing available, beautiful Robin Mond shoes. It was staggering.

Behind the counter downstairs we had a bank of over 100 glass-fronted drawers. These held hundreds of cuff links, tie slides and tie tacks, studs, collars, scarves, imported Dents gloves in pigskin, soft calf leather and nappa leather. We had drawers of Stoffels Swiss cotton handkerchiefs, not Polos in cellophane packs. These were the best you could get.

One range they produced featured prints of Goldie paintings on the finest cotton imaginable. I obtained a complete set of 12 of these and kept them for years. After a few years, Brian Cowper left Charlie Adairs and crossed the road to join Jack Smith and Jim Eddy as a partner in my old haunt, Charlie Browns. I was made manager at the age of 24 and took over new duties under the expert tutelage of Mr Adair.

We had our own import licence and brought in Pringle knitwear, camel hair and cashmere topcoats, mohair rugs and Clarks shoes. I would receive the forward shipping documents, take out my list of potential clients and phone them to let them know what was on the way. I would sell 90 percent of the product before it arrived.

During my first five years at Charlie Adairs I began delving into the art of display. This is a word that seems to have been removed from the “retail dictionary” over the past 20 years. My major introduction to this art was a window display I did for the movie Grand Prix. I used tyres, flags, posters, trophies and model cars and created an item of great interest.

Bill Lane, the owner of New Zealand’s first licensed restaurant, The Chalet Rendezvous, asked me if I would create a display for him. He brought in bottles of Champagne, fine wines, Italian Chianti posters, and food “to burn”. A chicken cooked in pastry with head and tail feathers, a pig’s head complete with the apple, prawns in aspic, crayfish. The finished display created so much interest that people gathered three deep to view it.

I won a few awards, including an international competition, and a lady from New Zealand Retail came from Auckland to see my work. She asked me to do a display for her with an autumn theme and she would return the next day.

I biked to Stout Street, gathered hundreds of leaves and began. I created three stairways covered in velvet fabric (to hide the boxes I used) and placed three forms dressed in autumn clothing, leaning forward holding opened umbrellas as if they were walking into the wind. Leaves were everywhere and lovely shoes “trod down” the stairways.

Offer of display work

The lady returned the next day and couldn’t believe what she saw. She asked how I did it and I simply said, “Imagination”. She took photos and showed them around Auckland. Years later I was offered a job just doing display work in Auckland for $100 a window but I turned it down. Gisborne was my home and my future.

Charlie Adairs taught me that quality was paramount. Summit shirts carry the motto, “No one ever regretted buying quality”. Oscar Wilde had a saying, “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best”.

But the best saying on the subject, to my mind, is in Harrods of London: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”. (It has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin.)

Basil Adair sold his building around 1969 and Archie Christie asked me to go and work for him. This sortie only lasted for 11 months before I received a phone call from Holeproof (NZ) asking me if I would like to become their representative for the area covering Gisborne, Wairoa, East Coast and lower Bay of Plenty. This was something I had always wanted to do.

I took the job and performed my duties as capably as I could. I worked up as far as Edgecumbe, Te Teko and Kawerau, up the Coast to Ruatoria, down to Wairoa, and served all of the local retail outlets.

I topped New Zealand in sales of Manhattan shirts and worked all of the other divisions of Holeproof to a pretty high standard. After three-and-a-half years they decided to close the Gisborne branch and I was asked if I would move to any of six other areas they offered me. I turned them down.

Stuart Rosie heard what was happening and asked me if I would take over the running of his ladies department. I realised that would be a challenge but I took the bull by the horns.

To get things going, I walked the streets of Auckland searching out the labels I wanted. I would go into a store, go through the racks, remember names and addresses and go outside and record them in a notebook. Stuart was helpful and gave me plenty of leeway to do what I thought was necessary.

We began running fashion parades for clubs and charitable organisations, nearly always at the Sandown Park Hotel. I remember one show we ran for the Marist club. The Sandown ran out of chairs and people had to stand against the walls. We must have had 600 people there.

I built up an association with Ian Hammon of Hammon Jewellers and he would bring a case full of gold, silver and diamond jewellery for the models. As compere, I would talk about the “bling” as much as I mentioned the garments. One night one of our loveliest models, Marion, came out wearing almost a $100,000 worth of jewellery. I took nearly 10 minutes to get her off the floor as everybody wanted a “close-up”.

We carried some of the very best fashion labels — Sherwood, Peppertree, Society Fashions, Queens, Pauline Campbell, Jag, Ton Sur Ton, Daniel Hechter — all exclusive to Rosies.

Bernie Norman of B.C. Norman Homes came to me every Christmas, birthday and anniversary date and asked me to pick out two or three dresses for his lovely wife Fiona. I never had one returned.

After 17 years, Stuart wanted a change and I departed the scene and my lady staff took over the job. I was extremely grateful to Stuart for allowing me the opportunity to prove my worth.

Trevor Coombes from D.I.C. contacted me with the offer to take over the showroom-lingerie section on the first floor, which I did. I made changes, fought with head office to get the clothing and labels I wanted, and further success followed.

Wonderful windows

I did internal and window displays for them and things went very well.

Later on I did private display work for Sun City Pharmacy, where I won a national competition for Elizabeth Arden — Elizabeth Taylor “White Diamond” perfume — and I won a diamond for my darling Denise.

I worked on display for Gemtime Jewellers, Tony Field, Office Products Depot and Faye Marie. I won a few prizes for Fay Hay and at one stage a complaint was made that she was using a professional window dresser. How far from the truth was that.

A dear friend, Jan Dillon (now Mogford), took over as manager and she made me her assistant. I enjoyed working with Jan immensely.

And then Gisborne Herald advertising manager Sue Lawrence offered me a job where my experience gave me valuable insight into the needs of my new customers — the retailers themselves.

My life changed completely, but that is another story.

I had an amazing journey. I met and befriended some wonderful people and I shared every step of the way with the most incredible lady, my late wife Denise.

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Barrie Flint - 1 year ago
I was actually looking for something else (the name of the jeweller next to Charlie Brown's) when I ran across this article. I know it is a little old but it brought back a lot of memories. I never knew Michael but I think I went to school with an older brother. Anyway, I was the messenger boy at Charlie Adair's in 1953 or 54. Worked there after school and full time during the holidays, 10/- a week I think. Vividly remember the glass-fronted drawers and the very expensive clothing. First thing every morning was to sweep the footpath in front of the shop from the front door to the gutter, do they still do that? I also learned to fold shirts and jerseys/cardigans and put them away properly - different colours, different drawers, always lined up square. Did the banking, took clothing to be altered, unpacked stock - a great time. I remember when Charlie Brown's started, I think late 1940s early '50s and I remember that the word was "he won't last long, the clothing range is too casual". How times change. Now the reverse is true, hardly any formal menswear shops like Charlie Adair's left. My Dad was the window dresser for Petties in the early '40s and I remember the centralised accounting system with the spring-loaded "thingies" that used to travel all over the shop from each department to the central office and back - mesmerising to watch for a four-year-old. I think Adair Bros had the air pressure ones with the long cylinders. I left Gisborne in 1955 and joined the Army as a Regular Force Cadet and finally retired after 30 years service in 1984, but Gisborne has always been my hometown, great memories.

Denise Spicer-Boyes, Hamilton - 11 months ago
I remember Denise well, she was a delightful lady and always beautifully dressed. Lovely memories, thanks Mike.

Lesley Lincoln - 11 months ago
I worked with Mike at Christies - he was always a gentleman. Reading this article brings back many lovely memories of Gisborne past. Interesting reading Mike. Thanks

Roger Carter - 5 months ago
Hi Michael,
You bring back memories of our time at school with Basil Rosie . . . oh those were the days . . .

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