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More Info →Oral Interview - Past Employees of the PDC Department Store, part 3

Recorded: 13 April, 2018.

Interviewer: Simon Johnson

Abstract: Simon Johnson.

Transcription: Leanne Hickman

Interview with past employees of the PDC Department Store/Co-op – Brian Yaxley, Royden Williams, Barbara Woodward, Vern Lumley, Alan Maw Location: Wharite Room, P.N. City Library. Notes: Recording slightly compromised by acoustics of the room and varying distance of interviewees from recorder.

ABSTRACT: Recording 3 of 3 [some material revisited]

00.00 Weekend shopping and Strike. Brian – I was asked by COLIN DYER to be Union delegate and organize staff to go on strike against Saturday trading. Staff also organized a petition which was taken to current [National] MP JOHN LITHGOW. Why management support? Firstly, they didn’t want to work Saturdays either. Also, would cost more in wages without necessarily improving overall profits. “Only so much money to go around.” LES GOODWIN [PDC Manager] realized this. COLIN DYER also. Why did some staff not mind working Saturdays? Brian – mainly office staff who were younger women. Bulk of sales staff and management opposed. Were a couple of meetings in the Opera House of shop workers from PDC & other stores. PDC management continued to pay wages to staff at strike meetings. Collinson and Cunningham management also cool on Saturday trading. Brian guesses that between them, the two stores had 75% of PN retail business. He believes week day only shopping with late Friday suited PDC. Husband might buy large ticket items on Friday which the wife had examined during the week. Royden – fewer women worked in the 1960s. might shop & socialize at a department store tea room during week. Barbara – Co-op members from surrounding towns would come in to PN to shop at PDC. Alan – Friday night shopping new to him, coming from UK. Was very much a family night. “There was always someone who wanted to buy a lawnmower at five to nine.”

10.15 Tearoom originally for all staff. Royden thinks approx. 120 staff. When smokers outnumbered non-smokers a “range war” developed, esp. in winter when windows closed. Management introduced two tearooms. Barbara remembers there being a tea lady, later phased out when self-dispensing coffee machines came in.

12.10 SOCIAL CLUB. Vern was a piano player. Singing and drinking. Family picnics in summer, movie nights. Vern - “a voluntary compulsory two dollars was taken from weekly wages for the social club.” Fund also used to pay for gifts to those leaving. Barbara – club located in PEGDENS old building to right of PDC. [Pegdens had been a furniture store]. Family trips. Alan - “Up Pohangina.” Played cricket, etc.

14.00 Co-op owned a holiday home in Shepherds Road in Taupo – had hot pool in basement. Staff could go in ballot to spend a holiday there [Co-op ownership of bach confirmed in my interview with Fabrics Buyer NORMA ANGUS].

18.15 The wider Co-op group: Vern – 17 butcheries, 26 0r 27 bakeries. People’s shopping habits changed with increase in motor vehicle ownership. Original Co-op idea was to have a grocery and butchery within walking distance of most people [NB most families might have owned a car, but the husband would drive to work in it while his wife did the shopping on foot or by bicycle]. Advent of discount stores and supermarkets eroded viability of local grocers etc. [see also my interview with ALAN CREWS who worked in the family grocery in the 1950s]. Vern remembers Co-op moving into new areas when he started at PDC [in 1968 – see above]. Petrol station, also motorcycles – CO-OP HONDA – and a liquor store. At the time of Co-op’s demise the groceries “Had gone.” Co-op Honda and liquor sold after Co-op group wound up.

23.30 GORDON BROWN and SOCIALISM: GB and JOE WALDING [who owned the PDC tearoom] were LABOUR PARTY men but none of staff saw PDC as ‘socialist’ in any way. Didn’t see PDC’s customers as being different to any other PN shoppers. Royden – “every department was the largest retailer of its type in the town.” Barbara – we also had a SECOND HAND department. Called ‘Trade in.’ [inn?] These were larger items – e.g. lawn mowers - that were traded in on new stock. Alan – items to be traded were valued by trade in staff first.

29.00 How did market economics of post 1984 affect PDC/Co-op? Vern – massive change in shopping habits. The proliferation of supermarkets e.g. Pak n’Save. Royden – For a long time most of the town’s retailers got very on well together. If one shop had run out of – say – men’s underwear, another shop might let you have half a dozen until your stock arrived and you could pay them back. This arrangement “was very common.” “Customers far more loyal” to particular stores. “At some stage in the eighties it became very cut-throat.”

32.00 Creation of PDC PLAZA. ARTHUR BARTLETT was the prime mover. Brian – unfortunately he built the plaza with money borrowed at over 20% interest. This was the killer. High inflation & interest rates meant failure inevitable. Initially Plaza very popular – everything was new. People came up from well outside city to shop there. But novelty wore off. Part of problem was that the Plaza entrance ran past the new, ‘boutiquey” shops, not to PDC itself which initially still occupied half the building. High inflation of 1980s undermined Buyers’ budgets. These were based on previous year’s sales and didn’t account for price increase of new stock. Therefore, buyers couldn’t secure the same amount of stock. “A downwards spiral.” Beginning of 1988 – receivership. Barbara – “ARTHUR BARTLETT was the first to rat.” Receiver was WALLY CURRIE. GRAEME MYERS [ a PDC manager] ran the business for Wally initially. Later “fired” by Wally. Brian – I was one of the first to go. Receivers decided to sell to “a Canadian guy…an entrepreneur with no money” who also owned LONDONTOWN in Wanganui. Brian’s reflection on the loans to build PDC PLAZA - believes that there were no loans in place before building began. In the end money was hard to get and had to be borrowed at a very high rate of interest.

39.45 Post PDC lives: Alan – I left before crash, about 1984. One of the reps he bought from put him onto a job in farm supplies. Thought PDC looking shaky. Barbara – her husband was a sales rep so they decided to work together, went private and picked up their own agencies. Royden – various retail jobs for next 15 years. Brian – started with EZY BUY then BURNE ALUMINIUM in Feilding. No redundancy pay when PDC collapsed. Only holiday pay and a couple of weeks’ wages. Those who had SUPERANNUATION received this. Details of schemes.

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Oral Interview - Past Employees of the PDC Department Store, part 3
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April 13, 2018

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Past Employees of PDC Department Store
Interview – 13 April 2018

Interviewees: Brian Yaxley, Royden Williams, Barbara Woodward, Vern Lumley, Alan Maw
Interviewer: Simon Johnson
Transcribed by: Leanne Hickman

Part 3

SJ: Now before we had a technological malfunction, Barbara raised the point of the changing working hours, that’s the introduction of Saturday shopping, and of course as we all know ultimately whole weekend shopping. We are going to open that again, and talk about the strike and the relationship with the workers, or the working staff vis a vie the management. Brian you talked about that originally.
Brian: Well I was asked to become Union delegate because I was such a sensible chap.
SJ: Who asked you?
Brian: I think it was Colin Dyer. Might have been Les Goodwin.
SJ: And these were the managers, the head managers?
Brian: Yeah, you know they had a talk and they said: ‘we know that you might be a stirrer.’ I don’t know how they knew that but ‘we would like you to try to organise the people to go on strike. Because otherwise their whole lives are going to change.’ And, so that’s what happened. There were some that were quite happy to be working Saturdays. I pointed out that they would soon be working Sundays, but they didn’t believe me. In the end I don’t know that it would have mattered to them anyway. But we also had petitions out on the streets, we got thousands of signatures which we took to John Lithgow, the MP for National it was?
SJ: Yes he was.
Brian: And went around to his place and ‘yeah, I’ll present this,’ and then because of some technicality they weren’t presented anyway. It was a very frustrating time, and a sad time I thought.
SJ: Why do you think that management was in favour of keeping the hours as they were. What was in it commercially for them.
Brian: Ah two things: the first thing is that they didn’t want to work Saturdays either. It affected their lives. Most of them had young children too. And the other thing is: it meant more in wages and there’s only so much money going around. And Les Goodwin was astute enough to see that it wasn’t going to give them any more profit.
Vern: I don’t think the turnover increased one iota.
Royden: It just went over a longer period.
Brian: And Les would have seen that wouldn’t he?
SJ: Now, Les Goodwin, what was his actual title?
Vern: Initially, manager of the PDC, and when Colin Dyer came after a period of time, he was elevated to a further stage that had a bit more to do with the Co-op and other things and I don’t know exactly what that stage was.
Brian: That was when the Co-op started to go downhill.
Vern: Oh that’s right yes.
Brian: I actually worked with Les at that stage too.
SJ: Now you said Brian, that there was some people – staff members who didn’t mind working on a Saturday. Where they younger people, or people in different situations? What, who were the kind of people who were mainly quite ok about it?
Brian: Mainly office staff and I don’t think there was actually very many, and they were young females. I think they were thinking of extra money – I think.
Royden: The bulk of the sales staff were strongly opposed as was management. They could see the drift of customers to other stores.
SJ: So they would have seen perhaps, that the old way of doing things was more likely to be in their favour whereas the new way would be more likely to be in their opponents’ favour.
Royden: Exactly. From memory, I think it was the Warehouse, had a little shop in the Plaza building that we owned at one stage, that commenced trading on a Saturday morning. And they pushed and pushed and pushed and eventually a few other retailers around the town opened up and suddenly it snowballed. But we did have a couple of meetings with retail staff and all the other stores in the Opera House, which was demolished, on at least two or three occasions. And such was the managements opinion of Saturday trading the staff were paid wages for not being at work.
SJ: So, this meeting at the Opera House was the meeting of shop staff from around the city, not just the PDC.
Barbara: Yes, not just PDC.
SJ: But did, do you happen to know whether the management of other large stores felt the same way as the PDC management, say Collinson and Cunninghames.
Barbara: Yeah Collinsons did, yes they did.
Vern: Well Collinsons were similar to the PDC, was a family-oriented type business from way back.
SJ: And DIC, do you know anything about them?
Vern: Less.
Barbara: They were New Zealand wide, so I don’t know.
SJ: So maybe it was a department store thing, in some ways. If you say Collinsons and Cunninghames, as you say a family – perhaps it was an old-fashioned approach to work and shopping and the weekend was a place - a time for families.
Royden: The strength of retail in Palmerston North at the time was Collinson and Cunninghames and PDC. They would have probably had, I would think, 75% of the retail business. And by opening, particularly on a Saturday, it just took their customers away.
Brian: One of the things that used to happen was on a Friday night, there might not have been sales made in say the furnishing department, but a lot of husbands and wives would go in and have a look, decide what they wanted and the wife would come back and sign up on the Friday, because there wasn’t time for them to go around every shop. They parked in our carpark and everything was under one roof. And, once that didn’t happen and people could go out and have a coffee, go into another little boutiquee shop that was the way it went. As I see it anyway.
SJ: Well, just looking at the malls now and the Plaza and what-have-you, people seem to almost shop as a recreation whereas I guess, do you think that people saw shopping, when they came to PDC, in the same recreational way that you go to the Plaza now and people are just trotting up and down.
Royden: Very much so. The size of the store was the fact, you would spend probably half a day there and do what you wanted to. In those days, especially in the 1960s the number of women working would be nothing like it was even in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So, a lot of women probably socialised and had their morning and afternoon tea in the Smith and Walding tearooms.
SJ: This is Walding of Walding’s Pies presumably. Joe Walding

Barbara: You see people that held account cards with PDC and also shopped at the Co-ops at the other townships around and my parents came from Pahiatua. They would come over and shop over here in the PDC once in a while.
SJ: Because they would Co-op members.
Barbara: Yes, and would put things on this card or give it to my mother, or whatever, and they used it. And so it wasn’t just locals, it was quite a wide are of people that would use the PDC for general shopping.
Royden: It wasn’t always sunny days in Palmerston North in those days. It was occasionally wet and windy.
Alan: I always remember Friday night shopping and it was quite new to me coming to New Zealand and it was very popular. Friday night, it was a family night. Mum and dad and the kids would come and it was always a nice atmosphere.
Barbara: And guys would meet their girlfriends and Friday night was a big thing.
Alan: That’s right and you would always get the last one who would want to buy a lawnmower at about five to nine.
SJ: And the other thing we were talking about on the tape, the 20 minutes that we seem to have lost, was the sort of the, memorable sort of smells and memories and we were talking about the tearoom. Now Royden you mentioned something about the smokers and non-smokers.
Royden: Well originally we had one tearooms for all the staff. Both sales staff and office staff.
Barbara: That was with the tea lady.
Royden: And we probably in those days had a staff of I think about 120. But at some stage, the smokers outnumbered the non-smokers and particularly in the winter when no one wanted the windows opened, there developed several range wars and the management decided to have two tearooms, smokers and non-smokers.
SJ: Now you mentioned tea ladies before, was this – did you have a tea lady at all stages of your careers, or was it just at one stage.
Barbara: No, when I started with PDC there was a tea lady and because I was part-time we used to have our lunch break 11:30 to 12 before the regular lunch breaks 12-2. And the tea lady sometimes was still cleaning up or tidying up when we went in there. But she phased out didn’t she. I don’t know when. It was phased out anyway.
SJ: And people got their own tea.
Barbara: I think, when we got machines that dispensed the coffee and the tea and the cups and things like that, that

Royden: I think we got rid of china cups and we had the plastic things.
Barbara: Well we had machines and had a different tea rooms. We had a very active social club too.
SJ: Now tell me about that.
Barbara: It was very active and for a start it was up in Pegden’s old building. Later on it did move down to another building. But this was – Vern was the number one piano player. Great on the piano and after our meetings lots of things were held up there. Staff things and we used to sing and

Vern: And the occasional staff member drank a little bit too much.
Barbara: But we had a lot of fun up in those staff rooms. And we used to have proper things organised too like picnics in the summer where we would choose a venue and the whole families used to go, car rallies and Murry Beale used to be part of all that and we had

Royden: Movie nights, all sorts of things.
Barbara: Different things. Various

Vern: But out of everybody’s wages was a voluntary compulsory $2 was expected and everybody gave. But that’s also the fund for somebody who was leaving and a present had to be given and that came from the social club fund.
Barbara: We had to go up a narrow alleyway between the buildings which was pigeons all around the place and we had to go up these steps, steps, steps into this building which having walked all through the pigeon droppings, climbed up these steps and they were very steep coming down after a drink or two.
SJ: So, where was this building in relation to the PDC building?
Barbara: It was Pegden’s old building.
SJ: Yeah I know where that was, it was a furniture building.
Vern: Facing the PDC, immediately on the right-hand side.
SJ: Yep and there was a narrow alley way there?
Barbara: Yes an alley way with a gate door and it used to be opened up when there was something on.
SJ: What kind of changes occurred over the period that you can remember of what people on the social club did. Obviously there was social change going on and that must have reflected in what people liked to do and what the social club chose to do. Do you remember anything like that?
Brian: They always had a wide variety. Like there used to be a sort of a dance, didn’t there.
Barbara: Yes, that’s right.
Brian: Yeah and they had quite a few of those through the year. There was something for everyone. I don’t think I heard anyone moaning about it.
SJ: Oh no, just thinking about the changes in the kind of events that you had.
Brian: Yes I didn’t mean exactly moaning.
Vern: I recall a function held in Smith and Walding tearooms when Alan Harris retired. Staff were recruited left right and centre to do little song and dances. What a night it was, everyone had something to do, you see, get up there on the stage and perform and blah, blah, blah. No there was some great nights.
Barbara: We had a lot of fun.
SJ: You mentioned going on trips and things as well. What sort of trips did you take?
Alan: Well I remember the one up to Pohangina, you know family, children there, games, cricket and stuff like that.
[Slight interruption]
Vern: But was the holiday residence at Taupo, was that social club, or was it Co-op owned. I’m not quite sure of the relationship there.
Brian: I don’t think the normal staff could get into that.
Alan: I used to use that.
Brian: But you were a Buyer weren’t you?
Alan: Oh sorry

Royden: No I think everybody could go there.
Vern: They could get balloted yeah.
Alan: Yeah the one opposite, oh I’ve forgotten now, it had a hot pool

Vern: A hot pool in the basement yeah.
SJ: A hot pool in the basement?
Vern: The thermal area in Taupo, Shepherds Road, number 14 and the road came up just about opposite the

Alan: Manuels? On the Main Road.
Vern: Yep. Some people got it more that once.
SJ: Gosh, so where was the restaurant Manuels.
Vern: No, no motel, big motel complex. No that’s not quite the right name. But however.
Alan: I’m sure it started with an ‘m’ of some sort.
Royden: Shepherds Road at any rate.
Vern: Yep, Shepherds Road Yep.
Alan: Right at the top of the end.
Royden: I think anyone could go.
Brian: Yeah you’re probably right. But it was a bit awkward wasn’t it, because these holidays had to come into it before you could go and if you had a working wife it had to suit her holidays.
Royden: You went into a ballot. It was good, I enjoyed it.
Alan: I was fortunate because it coincided with a trip with my in-laws, Jen’s mum and dad from the UK.
Vern: Oh you took them there did you?
Alan: Yeah. What a wonderful firm you work for.
Vern: How lovely.
SJ: Now we’ve talked a little bit about PDC as being part of a wider Co-op network which of course was Gordon Brown’s brainchild. How many shops, in your time Vern, do you remember roughly how many there would have been. There were groceries and butchers and bakers all around the place.
Vern: Well as I mentioned before 17 butcheries, 26 or 27 groceries. I don’t think there were any more groceries purchased after I joined, not that it had anything to do with me. But the tendency would be coming – people’s shopping habits had changed with the increase in the number of motor vehicles. The principle behind the Co-op was to have a butchery and a grocery in walking distance of any of the suburbs and so forth. That was the sort of principal when very few people had cars. They were going back to the 1930s to start.
SJ: And of course there weren’t any supermarkets either which was a big thing. I interviewed a chap recently whose father had run a grocers on Featherston Street and of course, they did very well because there was no supermarkets and that was a big change. Would you say that that would be one of the reasons why the other Co-op shops started to become uneconomic.
Vern: The advent of the so-called ‘discount’ grocery shops began to have an effect, and the bigger ones.
Brian: Yeah Woolworths, I’m just trying to think who they were, there was Woolworths and I don’t know if Foodtown was there or not. But certainly the big supermarkets.
SJ: Right, so we’re talking supermarkets here really aren’t we.
Brian: Yeah, well as I remember it, it was supermarkets that started to eat into the groceries. They could buy bigger and so of course they could sell cheaper. The more you buy the cheaper you can sell it.
SJ: And if you’ve got a car and you just see it as an extension of your life. It’s not a big deal in a small town like Palmerston, well small compared to Auckland, to drive down to the supermarket or whatever. But again, remembering my conversation with the chap who was working in the grocers, people went to the grocers on foot with the shopping trolley. Whereas if you’ve got a car, you can go somewhere where you can buy your bread and your meat and all your groceries and have a choice of groceries which you won’t get at the local grocers or dairy. So by the time when you mentioned Vern about there been 17 butchers we’re talking about the ’60-‘70s here are we? What?
Vern: Well that was the level it had reached by the time I joined the PDC. And as we’ve said before, a period of great expansion entering fields that they hadn’t been into before, like petrol garage, a motorbike shop.
SJ: Where was that?
Vern: The petrol shop was on the corner of Princess and Ferguson. One step back from that in Ferguson was Co-op Honda motorbike shop. All sorts of different fields that they started to get into. A very important one of course was the liquor store.
SJ: And when, by the time PDC, as it was, came to an end, how many of the Co-op shops were there then?
Vern: Co-op groceries as such had sort of gone.
SJ: What about more specialised shops like the motorbike shop and the liquor store? Where they still around?
Vern: Yeah they lasted for a bit longer but at some stage – the finance behind all of these came from the same source.
Royden: Yeah, they were cashed up.
SJ: Talking about Gordon Brown, the early Co-op movement, just as a general trend around the world was seen as a form of practical socialism, not necessarily being a ‘red’ or anything like that, but making people’s lives better by cutting out the middle man. Was that something that you were aware of in your working lives? Something that you knew was what made PDC of the Co-op difference to other shops?
Royden: No, I think we’d worked on a capitalist outlook. We were there to make a profit.
SJ: But for the customers, you were not looking at the customers in quite the same way, because they were your shareholders. So, you weren’t aware of any political edge at all to what you did.
Vern: Well apart from the fact that Joe Walding in cahoots with Gordon Brown and so forth, very staunch Labour-ites of course. I suppose there was a connection between the socialist sort of outlook and the development of Co-op, but I don’t think that ever

Royden: Never crossed our minds.
Vern: No.
SJ: No, I mean, it’s something I’ve read about, in the very early days a lot of the people who were doing the recruiting of shareholders were people who were quite strong in the Labour party at the time and they recruited members down in the railway workshops. But by the time you were working there that was ancient history I guess.
Vern: Yes. So the whole thing had been going for 32-33 years before I was there.
SJ: Did you have a sense in any way that your clientele were in any way different to people who say might have shopped at DIC or Collinson and Cunninghames? Was there a type if people that you associated with shopping at PDC.
Brian: I personally wouldn’t have thought so because I think a lot of our customers would have gone to Collinsons and a lot of Collinsons would come to us and all around the place because there was also Smith and Brown’s stores, Garners.
Barbara: No, I wouldn’t have thought there was any.
Royden: And I would say that almost every department were the largest retailers of their type in the town. You know, Home Appliance would have left the second biggest a long way back.
Barbara: We had the Second Hand department didn’t we too? What did we call it?
Alan: Trade-in. Yeah it was called the Trade-in department.
Barbara: Trade-in, Trade-in, that’s right Alan yes.
SJ: And these were mainly larger things like appliances and mowers and things like that?
Barbara: Yes, all those things, anything.
Vern: Anything you could think of.
SJ: So a customer might say: ‘I’d like a new mower, but I’ve got the old Lawnmaster here and you know, I don’t really want it anymore.’ You would do a deal with that?
Vern: Absolutely, yes.
SJ: Was that something you were doing yourself Alan?
Alan: No I didn’t put a price on it, that was over the Trade-in department.
SJ: And then they would communicate with you: ‘Mr Jones is to get £10 off his new lawn mower.’
Alan: I can’t remember how it worked.
Brian: I think they either gave cash or a credit, I can’t remember.
Alan: Yeah, probably a credit. Then that came off it.
SJ: So you were tightly linked, so money that was taken that was allotted to the second-hand mower was because you were going to buy a new mower from PDC.
Alan: Yes, there was quite a lot of hire purchases as well wasn’t there.
Vern: I can’t recall whether the building that that was in was the old brewery or – at one stage the Co-ops warehouse was also in that area.
Brian: Down the hill.
Vern: Yeah, down the hill. Where was the brewery.
Royden: The brewery was where the Trade-in was, and the milk station, the Palmerston North Milk Station was

Barbara: Down where the dip used to be where we’d go down the street.
Alan: There was a good fish and chip shop down there on Ferguson Street, right where
is now, just along a bit. Don’t you remember that fish and chip shop?
Barbara: Yes. I do remember that. Friday night.
Alan: Yeah. You didn’t cross the road it was when PDC had a carpark right down

Barbara: Yes right down where the service station was.
Alan: Ferguson Street. And then we used to be able to park the car on the other side of the road where the Shell station was.
SJ: We’ve talked a little bit about the social changes that affected the Co-ops dominance and we’ve talked about the rise of supermarkets and with pretty much everyone having a car, did the changes that were initiate but he post-1984 government, you know the so-called New Zealand revolution and we’ve talked a bit about the bringing in of extended shopping hours was part of the government’s push, but were there other things around those changes that took place, the beginning of so-called market economics and the freeing up of tariffs and free trade and all the rest of it. Are there any ways in which you can think which these changes or those changes should I say affected PDC dominance and profitability?
Vern: I think it was primarily simple economics with the advent of Pak’n’Save type operations and massive big supermarkets and so forth. There’s a similar sort of a trend in other areas too. You find people – their shopping habits have changed tremendously over the years and as you said before it’s become a recreation for the people, whereas when we were younger, shopping was one of the worst things a man could do for crying out loud. You’d rather be out there watching your kids kick a rugby ball around on Saturday morning wouldn’t you? And, that’s the way things were.
SJ: And you mentioned also I think, or one of you did, that the other stores were offering discounts which pretty much made it less attractive to be a shareholder of a particular store. Was that something that took place after 1984, after the major political changes, or was it happening beforehand.
Royden: Pretty much so. For a long, long time, all the retailers of the town got on very well together. It was nothing uncommon for say in the Men’s department for another shop to say have you got any so and so men’s underwear, we’re still waiting for some. And you’d give them to them and three or four days later, they’d give them back to you, they’d arrived in. That was very common.
Alan: We did that with Hopwoods quite a bit. [inaudible].
Royden: Customers were far more loyal. But

Vern: Yeah customer loyalty has disappeared.
Royden: That blew out the window. At some stage in the ‘80s it had become very cut throat and it was every man for himself. That unfortunately was the end.
SJ: So that was – at that point obviously management decided they wanted to try and meet this challenge by creating the Plaza. How did all that come about?
Vern: With the advent of Arthur Bartlett and at that stage there was still developments going on. The term the ‘Rose City’ was something that was promoted by the PDC and then I think it was largely Arthur Bartlett who’d promoted the very term the ‘Plaza’ the ‘PDC Plaza’. And at that stage we’d expanded as far as we could jolly well go I think, pretty much. So the neighbours stuck with the new

Barbara: That was quite exciting for the people of Palmerston North because we had the new Plaza and it was very popular. And everything was new.
Royden: And unfortunately they borrowed the money to build the Plaza at an interest rate in excess of 20%. I think it was – I’ve got a prospectus at home and I think it’s around about 24 or 25%. Well, no way in the world can you generate profit to return that. Very, very bad decision.
Barbara: The store was always busy, and the Plaza was busy, wasn’t it.
Brian: Only for a period though, because once Plazas started down in Porirua and those places, a lot of people used to come up from those places, but once the novelty wore off and the other Plazas around then our Plaza started to lose.
Barbara: Our local district used to come to Palmerston North for that too.
Brian: Because half the Plaza was actually the PDC, the aim was to make it more like the boutique stores that were around to create the customers coming back to the PDC. One of the mistakes they made was the front door led you around the Plaza shops instead of leading you through the PDC, so that you had to go through the PDC to get to the Plaza. So a lot of people would get into the PDC and not actually know – well not a lot or not enough got in there, but if they did come in, I often saw a person stop and look because there were big walls and they didn’t know where they were going and they felt closed in. The Manchester Department which Royden was running, I ran it to start off with and then he took over shortly after, that was a real prime example. People would come and say ‘where are we, how do we get out of here?’ You know it was a bit daunting but I’m sure the reason that they created that was to try and make it like the Plaza on Broadway, things like that. Pretty sure that was the idea behind it, but

SJ: Yes, I’d forgotten, of course originally the Plaza was only part of the PDC shopping – the shop, the complex and now of course, the

Barbara: It’s all been added to and enlarged.
SJ: So, I guess management felt that if they didn’t make a move like that they would – they’d go under – and attempt to move with the times, do you think?
Royden: Oh, undoubtedly. It was modernised.
SJ: But they just borrowed the money at the wrong rate.
Royden: And the wrong time. Any other five year period, it wouldn’t have been a great problem. But it was a time when inflation was absolutely rampant and, yes, no one could generate any money to pay back anything.
SJ: So, this was the ‘80s, we’re talking about?
Royden: This was the ‘80s.
Vern: So many of the Buyers in the departments were tearing their hair out because the goods that they had sold provided the money to buy the next lot. The next lot has now gone up 25% and so the money would only buy three-quarters of what it would before. It’s a real downward spiral.
SJ: You were going backwards all the time.
Royden: Exactly, big time.
SJ: So when did everything hit the wall? What year was that, can you remember.
Royden: 1988.
SJ: And how did that pan out, for the staff?
Brian: Terrible.
Vern: Gosh yes, shocking. I had departed at that point.
Barbara: The writing was on the wall, no because the writing was on the wall, Arthur Bartlett was the first to rat.
Brian: Oh he didn’t rat, he did the right thing.
Barbara: I know, but that was they way we looked at it.
Royden: He got on the boat and left the sinking ship.
Barbara: You can’t blame anyone I know, but I mean it felt like they were deserting you, you know.
Royden: There was always the optimism that there was some hope. But it come to a fateful day when the

Vern: When it hits the fan.
Royden: The receivers were called in and unfortunately several of us got laid off.
Barbara: That was that Wally Curry. Royden and I within about quarter of an hour one night.
Brian: I was amongst the first to go. I really didn’t get on with Graham too well, Graham Meyers and he was Wally Curry’s right hand man and ran it till Wally Curry got here.
Royden: At the beginning of ’88, the receivers and the Co-op PDC decided to sell the business to a Canadian guy by the name of Wally Curry who was an entrepreneur who had no money.
Barbara: He also owned a business called London Town in Wanganui.
Brian: Anyway I was amongst the first to be made redundant. It was a brief interview and I don’t know if Graham was there or not but Wally said to me: ‘Would you be prepared to go back to being a salesman.’ And I said: ‘No.’ Because I actually didn’t think I was going to last anyway. I said: ‘No, I couldn’t do that,’ and he said: ‘Well you haven’t got a job.’ And that was fair enough, I didn’t admire it. But the funny thing was about a month later Graham rang me up almost in tears and said: ‘Wally’s fired me.’ I wasn’t heartbroken. But talking about the loan, Royden’s right it was a big loan but as I remember it they didn’t actually have a loan in place, they started the building and there was lots of negotiations about loans and in the end they had to get a loan from someone who would loan them the money and that’s part of the reason why it was such a high interest rate, you know, they had to just grab at straws.
SJ: So, what did you all do, or those who were working there at the time, what did you do when you left PDC?
Alan: Well I left before it – about 1984, I think it was, I was about 10 years with the company. One of the Buyers – reps that came in, he knew of a job going in town. He said: ‘there’s a job going there would you be interested in it’. And so I went along to see them and I got the job there, for farm supplies, and still hardware and kitchenware and stuff like that.
SJ: Did you feel that PDC was looking a bit shaky, did that influence your decision?
Alan: Yes it had.
SJ: It did. So that was the main reason you thought you’d
?
Alan: Yes, but this was before it really

Barbara: Before the receivers.
SJ: How about you Barbara?
Barbara: Well my husband was a sales rep, anyway, for two or three different firms so I joined forces with him and we picked up our own agencies, the main one which was Peros umbrellas. We got that because I had dealt with the Peros people so it was a case of who you know and who knows you and it all came about. So I just went out on the road with him.
SJ: Excellent, how about you Royden?
Royden: Other retail work but for another 15 years I think.
SJ: What sort of places did you work for?
Royden: Sterling Sports here in town, and PSIS I managed to work for a couple of years. Retail side of things there.
SJ: And Brian what did you do?
Brian: I actually went with Vern for a little while learning to become a measurer for windows etc. What was the name of that firm?
Vern: Burne Aluminium Company.
SJ: Oh yes a Feilding company.
Vern: Built conservatories, hundreds of them and aluminium joinery generally. The conservatory business sort of expanded into half building and half – and so forth, but it was an interesting time.
Brian: In fact, I’ve got that wrong, I actually went to Ezibuy. I worked at Ezibuy for seven years and I wasn’t a computer orientated person, they said it didn’t matter and then after seven years they said it did, so I tried something else. So I went with Vern and then I got a job with PFL which was in the old PDC bulk store and I thought this is too good to be true, it’s a really cushy job and it was too good to be true, they had actually sold it. And it was my job just to keep it running for 12 months. But it’s all right because I got a pay-out for that, I didn’t from PDC, none of us got a pay-out from PDC.
SJ: How did that go down, I mean giving you were saying what a good atmosphere it was and they looked after you and it all went pear-shaped

Vern: There wasn’t any money.
SJ: Oh there was just no money, and you more or less understood that, I guess.
Barbara: We got holiday pay and months’ pay check or a couple of week extra wages.
Brian: It was just a couple of weeks extra. And some of us had been in a superannuation scheme so we got that back too.
Barbara: Yes, they gave us that back.
Vern: You got back what you’d paid into it.
Brian: We invested in it and we got the interest.
Barbara: It was several thousand that I got back.
Brian: It’s all money we’d put in.
SJ: Was the superannuation scheme one that was run by the Co-op itself, it’s own personal one?
Royden: There was actually two. One run by an insurance company and one run by the PDC, it might have been a bit of the Co-op as well, that was a closed scheme for those who had started before a certain date, which I can’t remember, and I was lucky I was amongst one of them.
Barbara: I was too. That was the one I was in. Got quite a bit.
Royden: We got a reasonable pay out.
SJ: So was there a – you made a contribution into the scheme obviously, did the employer put in a percentage as well to go with yours?
Barbara: They did.
Royden: Yes they did. But the closed scheme, no we didn’t put anything at all. The – it was only the PDC – the company.
SJ: But the later scheme was one where you and the company put a percentage in.
Brian: That was the one I was in, too late for the Co-op one.
SJ: I think I better let you good folk go home.

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