Pirinoa store at heart of community

By Hayley Gastmeier hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz -
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Owner Carmen Harrison outside the Pirinoa General Store, which was established in 1882. PHOTO/LYNDA FERINGA
Owner Carmen Harrison outside the Pirinoa General Store, which was established in 1882. PHOTO/LYNDA FERINGA

Pirinoa General Store is still going strong after more than 130 years in business.

It has been serving the rural township continuously since it opened in 1882, only about 40 years after European settlement of Wairarapa began.

The shop has also been a vital pit stop for coastal visitors, being the last chance for petrol and grocery restocks.

During its long history the store has had its fair share of shopkeepers -- but ownership has passed through just three hands.

Today the Pirinoa General Store is still exhibiting its original wooden floorboards, shelving, pelmets and counter.

It offers a post office, fresh produce, groceries, liquor, hardware, bait and tackle and outside has petrol pumps and a public toilet.

For the past 15 years it has been owned and run by Carmen Harrison, who has been a Pirinoa resident for more than 26 years.

On Wednesday the Times-Age called into the store and met Anne Aburn, known in Pirinoa as the "local historian" -- her family having lived in the district since 1855.

In 1987, Mrs Aburn's book Pirinoa People & Pasture, which covers the district's history, was released for Pirinoa School's Centennial.

The book, reprinted in 2012, begins in the 1400s with the early Maori settlers of the area.

According to Pirinoa People & Pasture, Thomas Haycock and George Pain opened a branch of their Martinborough general store at Pirinoa about 1882.

John William Kershaw bought Mr Haycock's share in 1904 and the store became the second branch of Pain & Kershaw.

Mrs Aburn recalls her childhood, when the general store was much smaller than it is now.

"When you came in you would ask for a pound of sugar and the person behind the counter would go away and measure it out.

"There was no self-service in those days."

Mrs Aburn said the store had always been a social centre -- a popular meeting place for the community.

In the early days the postal service was attached to the store.

"In those days the children were taken to school in the mail bus.

"We would be dropped off, then the mailman would come to the store to drop off the mail and pick up parcels, and it seemed to be a meeting place for the local men."

The post moved over the road in 1904 when the Pirinoa Post Office was opened, but has since moved back into the general store.

"I think the biggest change over the years was the self-service," said Mrs Aburn, a recently retired social worker.

"Now you can walk around and help yourself. You don't have someone behind the counter running backwards and forwards all the time getting the goods."

People would often ring in their grocery orders by phone, and they would be delivered to the homes with the mail.

"There were horses and carts at one stage, and then cars. It was the 1920s before anyone had a car and then only one or two people had one, so people were very dependant on the store."

The storekeeper always lived on the premises, and Mrs Aburn remembers the door behind the back counter that led you into the house.

She said the store was still the central hub of the district.

After John William Kershaw, the store was owned by his son Harry and grandson David.

David Kershaw said "it was a very sad day" when he had to sell it.

"It was a very enjoyable little place -- good value," he added.

"I sold it when I realised it had to become a shop that opened seven days.

"You need to have someone who can run it as their own business, who can go in and out seven days a week, which you can't do when paying wages."

Mr Kershaw said "it still is and always will be" the heart of Pirinoa.

The Kershaws owned the store until some time after 1987 (they still owned it when Pirinoa, People & Pasture was published in 1987).

David and Jenny Smock were the next owners, and then it was sold to Jim and Marilyn Law, who today still own the land and building.

Carmen Harrison bought the business from them about 15 years ago.

Ms Harrison, who moved from Adelaide to Upper Hutt when she was 7, ventured over the Rimutaka hill almost 30 years ago as a solo mother with her first son and settled in Carterton.

She then, with her now ex-husband, shifted to Pirinoa and had two more children.

All three of Ms Harrison's children, now 30, 27 and 24, live in Pirinoa and attended Pirinoa School and Wairarapa College.

She worked "for years" in Pirinoa as a cleaner and gardener, including for Mr and Mrs Law.

When the couple put the shop up for sale Ms Harrison expressed her interest.

An agreement was reached and Ms Harrison took over the lease of the shop.

"When the petrol station over the road closed, Jim and Marilyn put the petrol tanks in next to the shop.

"They literally make nothing off them, but they did it for the community," Ms Harrison said.

"The store seems to suit me. I seem to get on with pretty much everybody and everyone seems pretty happy with me being here.

"I do like that fact that I know everybody and what everybody is up to -- I know pretty much everything that's going on in the area from here all the way out to Ngawi."

She has two part-time staff members, one being Sharon Jephson, wife of South Wairarapa District councillor Brian Jephson, who has worked at the store under all three of its owners.

The public toilet outside the store was put in about five years ago, an idea Ms Harrison credits to Mrs Jephson.

Up until about two years ago the store was a Four Square, but when the franchise decided to "computerise everything" Ms Harrison decided to go it alone and split off from the brand.

Because of this she can keep her prices below that of the franchise.

"I'm still here," said Ms Harrison.

"What else would I do?"

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