Curtains drawn on sewer's paradise

The Arthur Toye fabric shop in Palmerston North has closed its doors for the last time, after supplying sewing enthusiasts since 1978.

Branch manager Debbie Rogan began working at the shop in 1980.

"There are people who have been our customers since we've been here," she said yesterday.

"There have been some with a couple of generations of sewers over the years.

"But the art of sewing is getting lost. Back in the 80s they removed the tariffs, which meant everyone could bring in garments.

"Imported garments are cheap, and we can't compete. It's cheaper to bring in ready-made then to sew your own."

Arthur Toye Fabrics announced last year it would close all four of its shops after 75 years in business.

Forty-eight per cent shareholder Peter Toye said in November that supplies for the business's market niche were diminishing because most suppliers were buying garments made overseas, and it was hard to get hold of fabric in New Zealand.

Mrs Rogan said sewing had changed over the years, first moving into quilting and then into crafts, but relatively few people made their own clothing now.

"There was a time when girls wore long formal dresses to the balls, and those they made. Now they are ready-made."

Customer Monica Battersby was looking through patterns at the shop yesterday morning.

She said she always enjoyed shopping at Arthur Toye.

"I think it's sad," she said. "I've shopped here and in Wellington for as long as they've been around."

Mrs Battersby did not sew many of her own clothes, but enjoyed making clothing for her grandchildren. Her daughter and daughter-in-law had also both learned to sew.

"I don't know where I'll shop now," she said. "Here the staff know their stuff, and it's a New Zealand company."

Assistant manager Gayel Child, who has worked at the shop for 28 years, said the Toye family were good employers.

"It's a family company, and the family is wonderful. We'll never get as good employers as they were," she said.

Mrs Rogan said the shop had also been a place of employment for students.

"We've had some wonderful students working here, and we've seen them go off and do amazing things. A lot of them have come back over the years and said they have utilised the skills they gained here."

History student Astrid Richardson worked at the shop for the past 3 years.

"It's been lots of fun," she said. "I've learned a lot of sewing skills and customer service, which is great because my next job's also in retail. It's been a good time here."

Both Mrs Rogan and Mrs Child said they would take a break after the shop closes and would decide later what path to take. Mrs Rogan said they knew many people in retail and they had received offers to look after shops while their managers were away.

Retailing was rewarding, she said. "Our relationships with our customers is very personal. There are customers who come in every week."

She said stopping work would not leave too big a hole in her life just yet. "There are so many things on my agenda."

Mrs Child agreed. "But we will miss being here," she said.

Manawatu Standard