Recorded: 13 April, 2018.
Interviewer: Simon Johnson
Abstract: Simon Johnson.
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.
Recording 3 of 3 [some material revisited]
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.”
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.