Shoe shop owner steps out for good

20:38, Aug 13 2014
Nick Crocker
END OF LINE: Glenis Aubrey is closing Kitts Shoes on Trafalgar Street, saying the ‘‘rock star economy’’ has not reached provincial centres.

Kitts Shoes has trod a long path in Nelson's retail history, but after 90 years it is taking its final steps.

The footwear business founded in September 1924 in Hardy St by LF Kitt, and which has been operating from its current premises in Trafalgar St since 1994, will close on September 20.

Business owner Glenis Aubrey said the closure coincided with the lease expiring, and that it was now time for a break. A new business had taken on the lease, but she declined to say who.

The long-time retailer who with her husband, Tony, has worked at the coalface of the service industry for many years, including as former B&B owner-operators, said there was no doubt central city businesses were struggling, and high lease costs did not help.

"The rock star economy the gurus keep talking about is not happening in provincial New Zealand."

Aubrey said the shift to online sales was part of the problem, along with the big box retailers and their constant discounting which set a high bar for others.


"People expect you to do the same thing."

A closing down sale, now under way, has had staff run off their feet.

Aubrey said she regretted the loss of the business's "lovely, loyal customers". "For that, we're sorry and I'd like to thank them all."

She also regretted the loss of her two staff: Marion Fawcett, who has been working at Kitts for 29 years, and Paige Erskine, who has been there for 7 years.

They will both be joining Aubrey in the hunt for new jobs.

The footwear business was established as LF Kitt, Cookham House on September 1, 1924 in Hardy St. The founder died in 1942 and his wife continued the business until 1962.

The family, including the Kitts' son, Richard, set up another store in Motueka, but it closed in the early 1960s.

Richard Kitt and business partner William Marr bought the family business in 1962 and traded as Kitts of Nelson. A year later they opened a separate men's store in Hardy St.

Business was booming, which prompted a move to premises in Trafalgar St (now occupied by House of Travel), and an offshoot was opened in Richmond which ran until 1994. A consolidation happened at that time, and the business shifted to its current location.

Marr retired in 1981 and Warren Tilley, who had started as a junior assistant in 1965, became a partner. His wife, Carol, bought the shareholding off Richard Kitt on his retirement in 1988.

They knew as early as the 1980s that would have to keep a step ahead of burgeoning national retailers and joined the Composite Buyers Society, which was a group of footwear and similar type retailers. By pooling their knowledge, resources and buying power they could better compete with the larger, national companies.

Former supermarket operators Roger and Juliet Duncan bought the business in March 2003 and changed the trading name to Kitts Shoes.

Tony and Glenis Aubrey, former owners of California House B&B in Collingwood St, bought Kitts Shoes in 2007. Tony bowed out of the business a couple of years ago but remained a director, and Glenis struck out alone with the help of the two experienced staffers.

The closure comes after efforts to sell the business. "I just want to try something else now," said Glenis Aubrey, after the first holiday she has had in years.

She doubted her love of shoes would ever die. "They're just so artistic and each season we've had these beautiful, brand new creations arrive. Nelson is lucky to have so many lovely European labels on sale here."

She said even the plainest outfit was highlighted by a great pair of shoes. Her footwear idols were the characters off TV series Sex and the City, especially Carrie Bradshaw and her obsession with be jewelled Manolo Blahnik pumps.

Aubrey said she was looking forward to a new challenge. "I love retail, but I no longer want the responsibility."

The Nelson Mail