Westerman & Co on the corner of Russell St South and Heretaunga St had its beginnings in 1911 when Ernest Westerman (1878-1954) travelled to Hastings from Wellington to look at a drapery for sale called Greenfields.

His Wellington drapery had been destroyed by fire and he was looking at alternatives.

Unimpressed by Hastings' prospects, Ernest boarded a train back to Wellington and sat next to a dairy farmer who convinced him that Hastings had a bright future.

Ernest got off the train at the then Paki Paki station and walked back to Hastings to buy Greenfields, taking ownership in January 1911.


Hastings at that time had a number of family run draperies that grew with the town.

These included Roach's and Baird's, which built larger stores in the 1910s and 1920s.

There was a large degree of friendly rivalry amongst the drapery businesses.

In 1920, the first annual drapery picnic was held when three motor lorries and a motor car took drapery assistants, including those from Westerman's, Roach's, Baird's and Millar and Giorgi, to Roy's Hill for a picnic and fun sports day.

The Hastings Band turned up to provide music and the non-drapery firms of Hastings chipped in to buy trophies for the sports competitions.

Featured among those who participated (and who came second in the men's potato race) was Harry Poppelwell (1899-1988), who in the late 1926 founded his own store, Poppelwell's Menswear.

Of the firms that participated in the picnic, only Hallenstein Brothers now remains in Hastings. The picnic was held on half-holiday Wednesday.

Before the 40-hour week was established in 1945 for shop assistants and Saturday trading halted, the common retail work week was six days, with a half-holiday allowed by The Shops and Offices Act.

Sunday trade was not allowed - it was the Sabbath. This half-day was set in each town.

By 1920 there was discontent with Wednesday being the half-holiday amongst the shop assistants.

The New Zealand Labour Party branch in Hastings supported the move by many shop assistants to have the half-holiday on Saturday afternoon.

A petition was presented to the Hastings Borough Council by 77 shopkeepers and 140 shop assistants to change the half-holiday to Saturday.

A counter-petition was signed by 118 shopkeepers who wanted to retain Wednesday.

The arguments given by the shop owners were that country farmers came to town on Saturdays, so town should be open the whole day.

Napier and other towns had already decided to have their half-holiday on Saturday, so their people were shopping in Hastings on Saturdays, so this was another reason to retain the Wednesday half-holiday.

In order to change the half-holiday, a poll could be taken at the time of municipal elections if 10 per cent of the electors wanted a vote to change the date.

There was no election in 1920, but the councillors took a vote on the basis of the petition - which was lost in favour of retaining the Wednesday half-holiday.

The consideration of farmers caused the half-holiday to change from Wednesday to Thursday in May 7, 1931, as the stockyard sales at Stortford Lodge were held on Wednesdays, so retailers wanted the stores to remain open all day.

Finally, in 1938, Hastings' half-holiday was changed to Saturday.

Saturday trading was abolished in 1945, and one late night was given for shopping.

In Hastings it was Friday, and Havelock North chose Thursday to avoid clashing with it.

The Friday night social shopping ritual, especially for many teenagers, came to a close when the law opened the door literally for many stores to trade on Saturdays.

Interestingly, Havelock North was refused its first application to trade on Saturdays from October 1980 by the Shop Trading Hours Commission.

Allowing Havelock North to trade on Saturdays would adversely affect other shopping areas of Hawke's Bay, said the commission, and it was not satisfied it was in the public interest to allow it.

The only people to object to the Havelock North Saturday trading proposal were Hastings retailers, with not one from Taradale or Napier.

* Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is the heritage officer at the Art Deco Trust.