The family firm taking its final footsteps after 64 years' CBD trading.
A slice of Rotorua's retailing history takes its final footsteps when Webbs Shoes shuts up shop this coming Thursday .
That's when Peter Webb will turn the key on Webbs and its companion store, Sole Outlet, after 64 years of family trading at the Tutanekai St landmark long known as "shoe corner".
Webbs' closure spells not only the end of uninterrupted trading on the one spot, it brings down the curtain on Rotorua's longest family-owned and operated business that's remained within the CBD. (See side story for other family enterprises operating for at least 30 years).
When Roly and Joan Webb opened the doors their younger son is about to close, it was timed to capture the 1955 Christmas rush.
Peter's never worked anywhere else, like his older brother Max he went into the business straight from Rotorua Boy's High. He's moved on but was at the helm of three Webbs' offshoots that were expansions of the main shop, albeit under different titles. One, Peter Maxwell Shoes, is the portmanteau word created by the brothers' joint names.
The entrepreneurial Webbs were front-foot-forward when "going into town" to shop was an occasion and the CBD hummed with activity.
We'll walk our way towards that as we lace up the days that preceded and followed it.
Setting what was to become a family tradition, selling shoes was the only way Roly Webb ever made a living.
He was managing Hannahs Whangarei branch when the call came to transfer to Wellington's Cuba St store, touted as the Southern Hemisphere's largest shoe shop with a factory attached.
Webb senior was ambitious - he wanted a business of his own and he considered Rotorua the ideal spot to establish it. His sister Audrey was already here with her husband, Peter Humphrey.
A shop on offer in the new Giltrap Building caught his eye, it was across Amohau St from the travel centre – those were the days trains ran into the centre of town disgorging passengers by the score. As an aside, the Auckland to Rotorua fare was £2/5s - $5 in today's money.
We learned that from the mass of clippings Peter has collected documenting the Webbs' story and stock on offer – then, now and the years between.
The advertisements in his clippings files (for that read super sized shoe boxes) give a fascinating glimpse at prices of times past. In 1972 a pair of women's knee high boots would slice $14.75 from your pay packet, men's "best" brogues were $21.70, "childproof" school shoes came at around the $15 mark. You could say "charge it" or put your purchase on laybuy.
Peter's clippings are also a roll call of neighbouring shops now consigned to history.
Immediately next to Webbs was chemist, Peter Ludgate, Sollys Books and Toys Shop separating Ludgates from Harry Lapwood's grocery. When he traded "comestibles" for Parliament after his election as Rotorua MP in 1960, Ludgates switched to the premises he'd vacated, Hell Pizza's there now
On the other side of Webbs (we're talking of the left hand side of Tutanekai St looking towards the Central Mall) were Vaughan's Butchery, the Kai Fongs, also grocery stockists, remember, these were pre-supermarket days, and their family's Canton Café.
As the shops to the right of them closed or moved, Webbs expanded into them, when the offices upstairs emptied out Webbs acquired the floor above for storage. This was a business that continued to take giant strides
However, the Webb family weren't totally laced into footwear, their name was equally synonymous with swimming, the Blue Baths was their training ground.
Max Webb breaststroked his way into several New Zealand rep squads, competing in overseas events.
Peter was a backstroker.
"I made a few national champs finals but was never anywhere near the level my brother was."
Roly Webb's sons' aquatic activities led him into the sport's administrative side, becoming president of the New Zealand Swimming Association.
In 1968 Peter set out on his OE with a group of mates, they'd got as far as Aussie's Northern Territory where they were working in a sugar mill, when he was summoned home to mind the shop/shops.
His dad had been appointed manager of the New Zealand swim team competing at the Mexico Olympics. Peter rues that no Rotorua members were included.
The 60s was the decade Webbs began to expand and expand some more.
When the Finn family opened the 304 multi-storey complex on Pukuatua St, Webbs bagged a ground-floor posse for Peter Maxwell Shoes "where the Lyric Theatre used to be". Max Webb managed it, trade was so successful Instep Women's Fashion Shoes went into business across the street.
Webbs' empire grew further with the addition of Footloose in Hinemoa St, a prime position with the then Post Office opposite. Peter emphasises that Footloose was unconnected to the present Eruera St shop carrying that name.
When Max Webb took his British wife back to the UK, Peter Maxwell Shoes was sold to the Finns and continued trading for several years.
Like Our People, the Webbs have never been adverse to plays on irresistible words, over the years the present shop's been known as Webbs Feet First and Webbbfoot.
Sole Outlet was opened with the younger, edgier market in mind.
All this has been told with the emphasis on the inner workings of Rotorua's oldest family retail CBD business but what of Peter Webb and his own family's contribution to it?
He's not one to talk about himself but we do learn his second wife Pam has been on the floor since their 1998 marriage. Her daughter, Sally-Anne, has also been a long-standing team member.
Pam insists Peter married her because he needed more staff. Untrue of course, but loyal staff have played a paramount role in the success story that's been Webbs in all its guises, Peter's adamant we record that.
When he closes the door that final time it will naturally be with a degree of sadness.
"We put the business on the market, I'm a wee bit disappointed it didn't sell, this is a shop that's always been full of customers, but times change and the time has come for us to move on, there are other things I want to do before I fall over for the final time."
Born: Whangarei, 1947.
Education: "A full week at Whangarei Primary". Waiwhetu (Lower Hutt), Malfroy and Western Heights Primaries (foundation pupil at latter), Rotorua Intermediate, Boys' High.
Family: Wife Pam, 2 daughters, 4 step-children. "Nine grandchildren between us."
Interests: Family. Former basketballer, street walking. "I'm hoping to get back into the pool, play a bit of golf, I've got a couple of bikes I've been finding excuses not to ride. Do a bit of travel."
On changing footwear fashion: "It comes and goes in a full circle."
On Rotorua as contributed by wife Pam: "Parking's become a terrible problem, Te Manawa's been a disappointment".
Peter: "There are too many satellite shopping centres, they've killed the CBD."
On his lifetime in the shoe business: "It's been fun."
Personal philosophy: "We only live once."
Family owned and operated businesses have become a national rarity, only a handful remain in Rotorua.
Two which began life within the CBD have spread their wings from retailing and moved outside the retailing area.
By far the oldest is what's now known as Kilwell, with the third generation of Wells' family members at the helm. Founder, John Wells, began the business in Fenton St selling fishing tackle.
GB Teat Ltd, which the late George Teat founded in 1947 selling whiteware in Tutanekai St, is another third generation-growth industry enterprise, today specialising in heating and refrigeration.
Osbornes Funeral directors began 38 years ago, passing from father to son.
In the CBD some of those include:
>McLeod's Booksellers – 75 years old next month (watch this space).
> Steiners Interiors– 40+ years; a husband, wife and son operation.
> House of Elliott - 42 years, now in the hands of founders the late Brenda and Bob Elliott's son and daughter-in-law.
> Pollards Menswear - 39 years, again a son's followed his father into the business.
> Prendergasts Furniture Court which, at touching 30 years, is set to close at the end of November.