Long stint at store furnishes warm memories

21:49, Sep 26 2013
Ken McDonald
MAKING THE BREAK: Ken McDonald is retiring this weeknte retires today after 49 years working at H & J Smith.

The same month Ken McDonald started work at the H & J Smith department store in Gore, Lyndon Johnson was elected United States president and the British House of Commons voted to abolish the death penalty.

Today, Mr McDonald will work his last day at the H & J Smith Invercargill store, retiring after almost 49 years with the company.

Mr McDonald and his late father, Gordon, a former manager of the H & J Smith Gore store, together clocked up 85 years of continuous service for the chain.

The nature of H & J Smith had made the pair's long service record possible, Mr McDonald said.

"It's been a really good company to work for. You always knew who your boss was."

Mr McDonald started working in the Gore delivery van when he was about 13, helping out with the Christmas delivery rush.

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He then began working after school part-time, before starting full-time in the furniture department in November 1964.

As the manager's son, there was no special treatment - in fact, there was probably more pressure, he said. "If I did something wrong, I got it in the neck when I went home as well."

In 1980, after a few temporary stints in the Invercargill store, he made the permanent shift to manage the furniture department.

Mr McDonald has worked through many changes, such as the introduction of weekend trading, the phasing out of pneumatic tubes for cash, and the computerisation of absolutely everything.

Furniture, too, had changed with fashion through the years, with some strange items - including a completely round lounge suite, which was sold, and a huge circular bed, which was not - displayed in the store under his watch.

He looks back on the 1980s as a high point for sales, as baby boomers began buying houses and furniture.

"Twenty five recliner chairs would come in off a truck in the morning and by early afternoon they would all be sold," he said.

"I've really enjoyed it. Furniture is something that almost gets into the blood."

However, mindful his father had died at the helm of the Gore store, he decided to retire this year.

"I thought, 'well, I'll wait till the worst of the winter's over and then I'll make the break'. It's scary and it's exciting at the same time."

Mr McDonald will finish up today, a few weeks shy of his official 49th anniversary, and plans to enjoy some time in the sun.

The Southland Times