Cake decor store falls victim to home operators

Owner Shirley James, left, took over from her mum Beryl James 36 years ago and has run the business ever since.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Owner Shirley James, left, took over from her mum Beryl James 36 years ago and has run the business ever since.

At 1pm on Saturday Shirley James will hang up her piping bag for good. 

The 61-year old has owned BJ's Cake Decor in Hamilton for 36 years after taking over from her mum Beryl James who started the business on Boundary Road in 1979.  

"I imagine there will be a few tears," Shirley said.

After 38 years of baking and decorating BJ's Cake Decor is closing down.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

After 38 years of baking and decorating BJ's Cake Decor is closing down.

"It will hit me once I'm out of here, but whether it will be a great relief or a great sadness I'm not quite sure."

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The closure is partially due to a decline in customers and home operators taking her customers, but Shirley also said it is time she got a "proper job". 

Shirley has over 580 hireage tins, which she hopes to sell as one bulk lot.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Shirley has over 580 hireage tins, which she hopes to sell as one bulk lot.

"Both for my sanity and my bank balance. 

"It's time to prepare for my retirement in a few years' time and start getting sensible about what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do it."

The original plan was to move BJ's to another premises, but that didn't work out, so she made the decision to close.

Shirley's most memorable cake was 31 tiers.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Shirley's most memorable cake was 31 tiers.

"That decision has caused me a few sleepless nights. You think what could I do differently? What could I introduce into the shop? But it is getting to the stage where I don't have the stamina and the youth and the excitement that I used to."

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She said business has always been seasonal, but in the past few years it has significantly dropped off.

There's a lot of unregistered home bakers and decorators who are killing the industry, she said.

"Anybody can do it these days, you don't have to be particularly creative.

"It hurts because they'll do a cake for $20 and we're going to charge $60 and they're not registered – they're not paying any taxes or insurances and so it hurts."

When the shop was first opened there were no cutters for making flowers, everything was done by hand and from scratch.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

When the shop was first opened there were no cutters for making flowers, everything was done by hand and from scratch.

Although the past few years have been hard Shirley said she still sees value in cake decorating.

"Most of the time it has been a lot of fun and I have been fortunate to have had a career doing something I love."

On Beryl's first day in the shop 38 years ago she had two customers.

All stock is half price, anything not sold will be stored until it can be auctioned at a later date.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

All stock is half price, anything not sold will be stored until it can be auctioned at a later date.

"We didn't do any advertising, we just had a sign up out the front," Beryl said. "I sat and I waited and I stayed there until I had someone come in ... and they spent 75 cents.

"On that first day I think we made about $1.15 or something ... I went to the accountant to see what he thought of it and all he said was you'll be bankrupt in 12 months, but of course here we are 38 years later."

The first cake order Beryl ever took was for a 50th wedding anniversary.

"It had all of these apricot squares on the top with flowers and then I made a separate frog cake for [the customer's] grandchildren."

Fruit cakes were all Beryl used to bake, whereas now Shirley rarely makes one.

"Over the years fashions have changed," Shirley said. "These days it's all chocolate cakes and banana cakes – we don't do a fruit cake unless it's for someone over 70, or maybe the top tier of a wedding cake to keep grandma happy."

The shop has had to evolve, Shirley said.

"When mum started there were no cutters for making flowers, everything was done by hand and from scratch."

Shirley said one of the things she will miss the most is the stress.

"I've always worked to deadlines for anniversaries, birthdays and weddings and I enjoyed that."

Shirley has sent cakes overseas to Fiji and Rarotonga and once she even made a 31 tier cake.

"It's one that stands out because it was so large.

"I'm also going to miss that feeling of handing over a finished cake and the look on the customers face letting you know you've got it all right."

Up until Saturday everything in the store is 50 percent off.

Shirley is hoping everything will go by then, anything leftover will be stored until it can be auctioned at a later time. 

Unsure of her next move Shirley said she is open to job offers – although in a few months time she fears her fingers may begin to itch and she may just reach for the piping bag once more.

 - Stuff

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