Longtime city oasis for foot traffic closing

Longtime shoe shop laces up for last time

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 07:47 14/02/2014
Shoe
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

WALKING ON: Coopers Shoes owner Stephen Redwood reflects on the long-standing store and how Broadway has changed over the yeas.

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It is a time of mixed emotions for Stephen Redwood as he goes through the process of closing a shoe store that has been part of the soul of The Square in Palmerston North for more than 65 years.

Coopers Shoes was opened at 141 The Square in 1948 - at best guess - making it one of the longest-running stores in Palmerston North.

But the opportunity to renew the expiring lease at the end of next month has not been taken up by Mr Redwood, who wants to let his mother fully retire, and take on new challenges himself.

As the last of the foot traffic makes its way through the store that has been in Mr Redwood's family for 41 years, he feels pride that an independent, locally owned women's shoe store has lasted this long, and sadness for the memories and customers he will be leaving behind.

"As a little boy, when I was about 5 years old, I used to come in here and shadow the staff around.

"My father Ian worked here from the late 60s as an employee, then he became a partner and then he bought the store when the Coopers sold their stores in the 1970s.

"And my mother, she has been in and around the business for 40 years, ever since she married."

In a world where the shoe industry is dominated by chain stores' Asian imports, Coopers has stayed with traditional and exclusive European brands right up to the end.

There is a difference, too, in the service they provide for customers.

"We know a lot of our customers really well and a few of them have come in quite upset with me since they heard we were closing.

"We know them by name because we've been here in the same location for so long. You would think we would have shifted around in that time but we haven't ever felt the need."

Coopers Shoes was founded by a Mr Cooper - thought to be David Cooper - who owned another three stores in Palmerston North at the height of the business.

In the 1970s the Coopers sold their stores to focus on an expansion in Auckland and took much of the memorabilia with them.

Coopers Men's Shoes in Broadway Ave, another remnant of the empire, closed under different ownership 15 years ago.

Mr Redwood said tariffs being lifted on imports in the 1990s had changed the market dramatically.

It was both a blessing and a curse.

"My father was one of the first people to start bringing European shoes into the country, so from the start we had these exclusive European brands.

"Often you find chain stores will be based in Auckland and then just roll the same product around the country." Mr Redwood said great staff, including Heather Burn who had been in the store for 27 years, had kept it a destination shop.

But there were fewer casual shoppers in The Square now.

"Farmers moving to The Plaza caused the big change.

"There's less foot traffic along this stretch and that has affected us to a certain extent. Then other places in the area closed and it starts to be a bit of a spiral."

A replacement tenant for the store has yet to be found.

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- Manawatu Standard

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