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Christmas is a time to support family-owned department stores

  • Opinion
  • November 22, 2017
  • Paul Keane
Christmas is a time to support family-owned department stores

We are just five short weeks from Christmas and without doubt our attention is gradually but seriously turning to what gifts we will buy for our friends and relatives. From a commercial viewpoint, all retailers will be looking forward to a record trading period, and most will hope that the sales generated during the Christmas period will generate enough income to take them through the slower months of the New Year.

It’s appropriate this year however to remember for a moment the 18th November 1947 when Ballantynes department store in Christchurch was gutted by fire and some 41 lives were lost.

It was a tragic time for Cantabrians when they had to bury their dead. Certainly it was the worst fire in New Zealand's history and some 70 years later it is appropriate that we reflect on that day and be grateful that a similar event should never happen again.

Ballantynes as a family department store has been very resilient.

Not only did the family recover from that tragedy and rebuild the business, but they did it again when the recent Christchurch earthquakes had a significant impact on the ability of the store to trade. The ability of a business to recover from a period of adversary is quite remarkable. Maybe if Ballantynes had been a public company the result would have been different. However, because it was privately owned, its determination to continue was very apparent and the culture of the family input is apparent as much in 2017 as it was in 1947.

It also demonstrates the other like privately owned department Stores in New Zealand such as H&J Smith in Invercargill, and Smith & Caughey in Auckland who follow in the same family traditions as Ballantynes. Ironical also that the three are all "families", reconnecting with the past and ensuring the traditional values are maintained. Farmers Trading Company, while similar, have had a range of owners, with the James Pascoe group being the most recent and who are likely to maintain ownership into the future given the Norman family approach to retention of everything they own.

I recall other department stores like James Smith in Wellington, Arthur Barnett in Dunedin and Haywrights in Christchurch. They all had traditional values but succumbed for various reasons. We should pause during the festive season and give a thought or two for those who perished in the Ballantynes fire and be grateful for the new health and safety rules that have been introduced to help prevent such events happening again.

As a small country, we should be proud of the family owned department stores still operating and despite the potential competition from Amazon and the like, they continue to offer traditional values and employ hundreds of Kiwis along the way. Good reason I suggest that we support them during the festive season.

 Paul Keane is a registered property professional and has vast experience in New Zealand’s commercial property industries. He provides retail and property consultancy including development management to many New Zealand property owners, developers and city councils. This post originally appeared on RCG's blog.

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