“All these shops, but nowhere to buy a nail!”
This was my husband’s recurring lament, after we moved to live in Hamilton.
We love being in close walking distance to a wide range of shops and services. It wasn’t long, though, before we discovered some serious gaps in the retail mix.
These gaps are a priority for the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, as part of a bigger plan to attract more people to our business district. For Margaret Colditz, growing up in Beaumont Street through the 1930s to the 1950s, there were no such gaps.
In her unpublished memoir My Beloved Beaumont Street, she tells us about many of the shops and businesses. Margaret’s own story is here.
This is what she says about some of them – ones that are missing from Beaumont Street today.
I’ll start with the nails – and the old fashioned hardware shop.
Deitz’s hardware store was on the corner of Lindsay and Beaumont Street.
Advertisement in the Newcastle Herald and Miner's Advocate, 1955/56.
As a one-time Girl Guide, Margaret Colditz writes:
There was kind, smiling-faced Mr Deitz. He had the most comprehensive array of hardware. He always greeted us with a bright, happy face. When we would request ‘one yard of blind cord please Mr Deitz’,he immediately knew that we belonged to St Peter’s Girl Guide Company....many a young one learned to tie a reef knot outside Mr Deitz’s shop.
Quietly, Mr Norm Agland was always ready to guide us when we had to buy our first billy can for outdoor cooking. Norm was an authority, in those times, on household effects – for example, butter coolers, meat safes, and fly papers. He helped our mothers to select new wire for their clothes lines....
I wondered if Brian Agland, who as a child used to run in and out of the house that once stood on our block, was related.
‘Norm was my father’s cousin’, Brian tells me. ‘He was tall, slim, and always wore a dust coat. He was always very calm. I would often walk up to Deitz’s with Dad on a Saturday morning and Dad would buy nails and screws by weight, and these were packed in a brown paper bag’. Read more about Brian here.
In a tragic, freak accident during a parade in 1944, Mr Norm Agland’s 70 year old mother was killed by an out-of-control horse, on the corner of Beaumont and Tudor Streets. Norm was 34.
Then there was the fish and chips shop. One can buy fish and chips in Beaumont Street today, but gone is the iconic, single purpose establishment of Margaret’s times – and it would be wonderful to be able to buy fresh fish there.
It is the stories and characters behind the shop façades that even today, make Beaumont Street unique. Margaret writes not a word about the taste of the fish and chips she bought –
Fish and Chips
(Stockfood/Ken Field Photography Ltd. R.F.)
but something else that lingers in her mind:
I remember with affection Tony’s Fish and Chip Shop, and his brother who had a gold front tooth. None of us had ever seen a gold front tooth. This one had come, with its proud owner, from Italy.
There is always plenty of walking to be done, as the business section of Beaumont Street is around a kilometre long. But a shoe shop today? Not one!
Mr Lee’s shoe shop .... was very elegant. One half side of the shop had Ladies’ and Children’s Footwear, while the other side was the Gentleman’s Department. If one couldn’t be fitted, Mr Lee personally measured one’s feet and arranged for shoes to be personally crafted.
(Photography courtesy myvintagevogue.com)
What Bunnings is to hardware today, so Spotlight is to drapery, haberdashery and manchester. Gow's Drapers was a very large shop for the times, and employed many people. Approaching Gow's, Margaret always wondered what new window display would be featured. It was Gow's the schoolgirls visited at the beginning of each school year to purchase their sewing requirements.
One yard of white lingerie lawn became converted, during the year, to a pair of Bombay Bloomers, with a spray of flowers artfully embroidered on each side. All of course, hand sewn!
Gow's also sold clothing for women and men. While Beaumont Street has an array of boutiques for women, only men who take big sizes are catered for now.
And then, the money system. No cash registers, but one all-powerful central cashier:
The assistant at the counter would put the docket and money into a cylindrical container, pull a cord, and one watched it whizz around the wires to the central cashier, to the cry, in Gow's, of ‘Change, Miss Bates!’
Read more about the Gow family here.
Finally, a type of business we definitely no longer need – Mr Poole’s coal, coke and wood shop. It is worth checking out here, because it demonstrates, as Margaret writes, that “Trust was everywhere!”
Mr Poole’s large shed looked like a large, black cavern. Not only did it store coal, coke and wood, but there was enough room for a truck inside. Then -
At the entrance, hanging on the wall, was a black board, and some white chalk. With this, customers wrote their name and order – no need for an address, Mr Poole knew all of us. We all welcomed him as he refilled our ‘coal holes’ in the garden. We would replenish our coal scuttles and then have fun making our fires in the dining room fireplace.
While we may be missing some specific businesses in Beaumont Street, a very distinctive customer service can still be found. On Saturdays, I wend my way through the shoppers to find my special purchases – fresh pasta at Pina Deli, my favourite fetta cheese at Nina's IGA, the best chicken at the Beaumont Street Butcher, or luscious strawberries at the Hamilton Fruit Market.
At every stop, I am reminded what customer service really is.
Like the shops Margaret Colditz remembers, cheerful greetings, attention to detail and pride in quality are still part of the Beaumont Street experience. Perhaps, after all, that is what makes a visit really memorable.
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