Richmond House or The People's Emporium as it was originally known has a long and proud history in the Nowra CBD.
News this week the property is set to be sold led to us delving into its long and proud history.
The two-storey Victorian building was built in Berry Street, Nowra by well-known local builder John Schadel in 1888.
The property is identified as a heritage item on Shoalhaven City Council's LEP (Local Environment Plan) 2014.
That listing on the Office of Environment and Heritage provides a short history of the building, stating "The People's Store" was opened by John McArthur & Son on January 2, 1889 as a shop and residence for McArthur, a pioneer in the commercial life of Shoalhaven.
By 1893 the store had been taken over by Woodhill Ltd and traded as "Shoalhaven Universal Providers" at Richmond House.
It was bought out by Burns Philp and Co Ltd in 1948.
It has also traded as Mates from 1973 to 1976; as Emmotts in 1976, and in 1983 was operating as Young's.
It was operated by the Coles-Myer group as Grace Brothers Department Store from February 1986 until June 2003.
The building was then refitted and reopened by Spotlight in 2003 and operated until 2015.
A more in-depth history has been well documented in Robyn Florance and Alan Clark's book The Changing Face of the Nowra CBD.
John McArthur & Son
John McArthur left his native Scotland on an adventure that took him to the other side of the world.
This was not the John McArthur who with his wife Elizabeth had a significant flock of sheep at Camden, but a man of the same name who would play an important role in the early history of the Nowra district, as a businessman, churchman, community leader and philanthropist.
McArthur settled at Terara after his marriage to Alice Leeming in 1856 and the couple ran a business there and raised their family.
There were seven children, but two boys died aged two and four.
Terara in this era was constantly affected by floods, and shortly after the big flood of 1860 McArthur built the Greenhills Iron Store to the west of Terara.
As its name suggested, it was enclosed by iron and had iron shutters, and was constructed on sleepers that had been afixed to blocks of stone
In the early days of Nowra's development McArthur opened a store and had the distinction of being the first postmaster in 1861.
He filled the position for three years until the store was sold to his manager, Jeremiah Green.
McArthur would later open a second store at Nowra, in Kinghorne Street.
Apart from his business activities, this bustling man was one of the founders of the agricultural society, a member of the first Municipal Council, one of the original elders of the Presbyterian Church and was involved in developing the gold mining enterprise at Yalwal.
Such was his dedication to the church, it is said that when St Andrew's was being constructed, McArthur emptied his own tills on a Saturday night to ensure that the workers were paid.
For McArthur's business it was important to bring stock from Sydney and this led to him taking an active role in the steamship trade.
In 1878 he had a 73-ton paddle wheel steamer called Our Own constructed by local shipbuilder Reuben Greentree, but after two years on the coastal run it was wrecked in 1880.
With Nowra growing strongly throughout the 1880s, McArthur decided a larger store would be a sound investment, and the chosen site in Berry Street was on the edge of the CBD which in those days was dominated by Kinghorne and Junction streets.
However, it had the advantage of being next to the post office that was visited daily by many business folk and opposite the well-established Wesleyan Church.
Constructed by local builder John Schadel, the shop was considerably smaller than what we see today, but it did include a residence on the upper level when it opened as The People's Emporium on January 2, 1889.
McArthur chose to live at Terara in the home adjoining the Iron Store which continued to be operated by his wife, and he drove to town each day with his sons in the horse and buggy.
November 1890 saw McArthur suffer a huge setback when the Iron Store was burnt to the ground.
The alarm was raised shortly after midnight; one neighbour sprinted into Terara and despite the fact these were the days before the fire brigade or SES, within 25 minutes there were 40 people there to assist.
They dismantled the verandah between the store and the home, moved all the furniture out, and somehow the home was saved.
In the following edition of the Shoalhaven Telegraph McArthur named 66 people who had helped on the night of the fire.
Over the next couple of years his business operations failed to live up to expectations and in 1893 the Nowra store was sold to Woodhills.
The day after the business changed hands, McArthur made a fresh start, serving behind the counter in another man's business, but he was by then getting on in years and would never again be a force in the town.
However, he was not forgotten as related by The Telegraph in his obituary that stated -
When the large business passed out of his hands, the residents of the district, in recognition of his splendid services and qualities, presented him with the residence which his family now occupies at Terara. Well they mlght! for be was a helper to many, and the widow and orphan never appealed to him for help in vain. He. was one who did not blow his trumpet when he did a noble deed. Rather was the one who 'did good by stealth, and blushed to find it fame'.
Woodhill & Company - Richmond House
At about the same time McArthur was travelling to Australia, an 18-year-old sailor from Birmingham was also heading in this direction.
Alfred Meredith Woodhill arrived at Port Phillip in January 1853 and after the 154-day journey he had had enough and deserted in Melbourne.
He initially followed the gold rush but as he took a wife and they had a growing family to care for, from the late 1860s Woodhill became involved in various businesses.
There were problems with some partners, but in 1887 he bought a store at Richmond, taking two of his sons, Alfred Robert and George Edward in as partners.
After an absence of nearly 40 years, Woodhill senior returned to England in 1891 as an Australian delegate to the International Congregational Council in London, but he also took the opportunity to open up business relationships in various parts of Britain.
When Woodhill bought McArthur' s store in 1893, three of his younger sons came as partners to look after it, Ernest Henry, then 26, Arthur Alexander, 24, and Charles Richings a youngster of 20.
Woodhill senior also appears to have been in Nowra in those early days, and played a role in the day-to-day running of the business.
Shortly after he took over in 1893, an 'Around the Shops' column in The Nowra Leader provided this description:
Richmond House is the name by which the People's Emporium (late McArthur and Sons) is now known. The energetic and pushing Woodhill Company have made an extensive alteration in the older order of things. The shop has a Iarge promenade counter, and by the removal of several obstructions the extensive stock is placed under a bird's eye view from the door. The stock is all new and put in after Mr Woodhill cleared the old lots. He has a most extensive stock of drapery and millinery, men's and boys' clothing, hosiery etc, while grocery department is replete with everything to satisfy the most European desires. Christmas requirements have had the firm's special attention, they having imported three tons of currants direct from Greece. Figs, sultanas, barcelonas, walnuts, prunes, dates, muscatels, almonds, elemes etc, are largely in stock, while the fancy goods department is full of glassware and ornaments of a most varied kind. The stock of ironmongery is extensive and selected to suit the requirements of the district. A visit to the shop is well repaid if only to inspect the stock and have a Christmas greeting from the genial Woodhill himself.
The sons obviously had their father's business sense, for while making a success of the Nowra store, trading as "Shoalhaven Universal Providers", at different times they had branch stores at Cambewarra, Berry, Kangaroo Valley, Tomerong, Berellan (Brundee since 1910) and Captain's Point.
They also had a second Nowra store, around the corner in Junction Street - the double storey building which was known for some years as the Red Rose Café. The two stores were linked by an underground tunnel, high enough for a man to stand up in, and was used to transfer money between the stores and as a storage space, despite the danger of dampness getting into the goods.
Over the years some of the Woodhill family involvement at Nowra changed, with Ernest going to Richmond to be replaced by his younger brother Frank Leslie in 1896, but he moved to manage the Berry store.
The brother to have the greatest influence in Nowra was Charles, as shown in a 1915 tourist guide that he "is the managing director and is connected with nearly all the local institutions which have been formed for the welfare of the community".
In the latter part of 1901, Woodhills enlarged the store and boasted that it was "the biggest establishment of the kind on the South Coast".
Work undertaken by local builder Seward Elliott cost about, £700, with an addition at the rear of the premises, along the entire length.
Improvements on the upper level were a furniture showroom 50ft x 20ft, and a millinery room 25-ft x 20ft.
There was also a basement intended as a bulk store, 75ft x 20ft. In the week before Christmas of that Federation year, The Shoalhaven Telegraph provided another description of the store:
The mammoth establishment of Woodhill and Co is one of the attractive features of Nowra at this festive season. The front windows are all beautifully arranged and artistically displayed with an assortment of the enormous stocks carried in the main shops and bulk stores. One window is devoted to Christmas fruits and delicacies, another to toys, a third to Iadies' materials, and the others to house furnishings &c. Inside the different departments are all replete with overflow stock, and upwards of a score of hands are exceptionaIIy busy in attending to the constant stream customers and in fulfilling outside orders. It would be impossible for us to give even a general idea of the multitudinous lines or resources of this extensive establishment. It is enough to say that everything can be had, from a 'needle to an anchor".
During 1903 acetylene lighting was brought into use at the store, and later in that decade when Nowra gained its own telephone exchange Woodhills was allocated number 4.
A larger description appeared in the Telegraph prior to Christmas of 1904, and its specific nature provides some idea of what was available to the Nowra residents at that festive time.
Headed Woodhill & Co., the article stated:
This enterprising firm is making a great display as usual for the Christmas season. To the passer-by the windows give strong evidence of the stocks carried inside the extensive and roomy establishment. Each window has been artistically dressed and the dispIay is a credit to the staff in the several departments. Looking into the mercery and hat section, one is struck with the multitude of Panamas, Tuscans and Brazilian hats, so popular this summer; also a specially selected lot of frame felts. In mercery, the stock is large and varied, embracing every requisite to suit the simplest taste or the most fastidious. In the millinery department there is a choice selection, opened out especially for the Christmas trade, and embracing all the latest Parisian novelties and chic and lovely as a dream. The dress department is replete with articles dear to the feminine heart, including an assortment of material not to be surpassed for variety and range outside of Sydney.
Ready-made goods are unlimited and the selection is wide in collarettes, laces, ties, gloves, sunshades, and the hundred and one articles needed by the fair sex. The toy section is calculated to bewilder and to embarrass the youngsters, so great is the stock. There are mechanical toys galore, picture slates, and endless variety of dolls, guns, tea sets, money boxes, trains, whips, &c. The fancy goods department is an emporium in itself. Here are ladies' purses, ladies' companions, books to no end, fancy boxes soap, Christmas cards of all sorts and prices, albums, photo frames, EP and NS tea pots, cruets, tea spoons in case, jam dishes, and lines too numerous to particularise. The furnishing department is better filled then ever. In addition to heavy grocery stacks, there is on hand for the festive season Christmas cakes, almonds, walnuts and fruits of every description. Messrs Woodhill have found their business at each successive Christmas largely increased, and they are ready for a record week finishing up on Saturday.
Charles Woodhill was a very keen sportsman, playing rugby and cricket and later lawn bowls, being the first president of Nowra Bowling Club.
Various members of his staff also enjoyed cricket, and on occasions there were matches played between Woodhill's staff and other local teams. These were invariably at the Recreation Ground and played on Wednesday afternoon (a half holiday) when there were no competition matches.
It is interesting to note that in April 1931 Woodhills moved its drapery department from Junction Street to the main store in Berry Street, and as part of the move had £500 worth of surplus stock to sell.
An advertisement that took half the front page of the Shoalhaven Telegraph advised that the store would open on sale day at 10am, "to give country customers a chance in the bargain hunt".
The car park at the rear of the store does not appear to have ever had substantial buildings on it. It may have been the "Woodhills paddock" used in 1911 for a celebratory reworks display to honour the coronation of King George V; and for the Perry Bros. Circus performance in 1918.
Some 30 years later the lower part of the paddock was the site of an air raid shelter built as a precaution during the Second World War, and residents walked down steps to the shelter in a rehearsal for any attack. Delivery vehicles were parked nearby, and there was also a shed used as storage for ammunition and explosives.
Just after the war Woodhills provided free deliveries to towns as far away as Huskisson, Hyams Beach and Kangaroo Valley.
At that time the accommodation upstairs was divided into three flats.
After 55 years the Woodhill family sold the business in January 1948 to Burns Philp & Co. which had many interests, particularly in the Pacific region.
The price was said to be £30,000, and Burns Philp spent a similar amount in improvements. However, its directors saw no need to make a change in the name and the Nowra store continued to trade as Woodhllls for another 25 years.
William Roye McGee arrived in Nowra in March 1949 with his wife Dorothy and daughter Patricia to take over as manager of the Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. store.
He was an accountant by trade and had previously been general manager of Messrs M;C. McKenzie & Sons at Barraba.
After retiring from Woodhills he went into business on his own account and was postmaster at Huskisson and later at Bomaderry.
Mr A. J . Symons came from Young to manage the store after Bill McGee retired.
Jack Symons commenced his career as a clerk with a retail organisation at Young.
He was appointed company secretary after returning from five years' service with the RAAF during the war.
After an association of approximately 25 years with the company he joined the Burns Philp Retail Division and was appointed manager of the Nowra store in 1958.
The next big upgrade of the premises occurred in 1968 while Jack Symons was manager.
He converted the grocery section to become "cash and carry", the revolution of the day that we now take for granted in our supermarkets.
At a cost of $72,000 he oversaw a complete reorganisation of the shop that had been operating on one level.
The magnificent staircase was purchased from Murray Bros. of Parramatta, and it led downstairs to the lower ground floor.
A total of 10,000 square feet was added, furniture and floor coverings were brought together for the first time, along with the hardware section.
The frontage was also extended with the purchase on the adjoining southern boundary of Forrester's greengrocery.
From the time Mr Symons came to the store in 1958, he lived with his wife Verna and their two daughters upstairs above the shop, and they made their lives there for 13 years - the last family to live onsite.
They had a garden too, on the northern side of the store of what is now the thoroughfare, Emporium Lane.
The name was eventually changed in 1973 when 20 stores around Australia became Mates, after the oldest business in the Burns Philp group, Mates of Albury-Wodonga that had been established by Thomas Mate back in 1850.
Jack Symons left Nowra in 1973 when he was appointed store manager at Geelong.
His successor was Alan Baggott.
Alan had been kitchenware manager at the Canberra store and worked hard to become the operations manager.
He took the opportunity to become store manager at Nowra.
The grocery department was discontinued for a time, but it was brought back as a supermarket on the lower level by Kevin Waugh who took over as manager in 1975.
In this era, he also cleared the backyard of steel and other rubbish and developed the car park that we know today.
The Mates name would be shortlived, for the Nowra store would become Emmotts in 1976 and JB Young's in 1979.
Mates' store closed on Wednesday, October 8, 1975 for the changeover and opened for business the follow day as Young's.
The re-named Young's store continued to stock clothing for the whole family, homeware and hardware lines and groceries.
The building was purchased by the Coles-Myer Group in December 1979.
Mrs Narelle Hewett (nee Hart) retired from Young's in November 1980 after working there for 33 years.
She first started as an office girl and progressed through each section of the store. She retired from the haberdashery department.
Other long time employees were Eileen Morgan who had been on the staff for 25 years, John Apperley 24 years; Peter Brack a staff member of 23 years and Dick Roberts who had been an employee for about 20 years.
Peter Brack was appointed store manager and Bernie Croke, assistant manager.
A major refurbishment was undertaken during 1981 and Young's in association with Grace Bros. placed it in touch with overseas markets and all the wide variety of merchandise.
The refurbishment meant new floor coverings, fixtures, colour scheme and floor layouts and the installation of Philips fluorescent tube lighting system throughout the store.
Access and identification of the various departments was made easier by attractive signwriting.
The grand opening of the new store was held on November 18, 1981.
A new shopping era dawned when Grace Bros. took over the store on February 3, 1986.
The origins of the company go back to the early 1880s when two English brothers, JN and AE Grace, decided to seek their fortunes abroad.
JN Grace came to Australia and his brother AE Grace went to the United States, each agreeing that whoever made good first would send for the other.
In Sydney JN Grace began a travelling haberdashery business and by 1885 he was doing well enough to send word to his brother.
The pair opened their first store in George Street, Sydney in 1885.
The company continued to prosper. Grace Bros. decided to take its retail operations to where the customers were - in the suburbs.
In 1960 - the company's 75th Anniversary - Grace Bros. 'went public' and its shares were listed on the Stock Exchange.
In June 2003 Grace Nowra Store Bros ceased trading from the building.
Les Bryant known by his customers as 'Mr Woodhills' started in the grocery counter of the Woodhills store on November 18, 1968.
In those days it was a case of everything under one roof, with departments including electrical, haberdashery, manchester, toys, menswear, ladieswear, groceries, kitchenware, carpets and blinds, plumbing and hardware. The departments spanned the two floors with entrances at Berry Street, downstairs into Stewart Place and a side entrance into Emporium Lane. The upstairs floor was a residence for the managers and was later used as offices.
A large part of the grocery business in those days was taking orders over the phone and packing them for deliver, often to farms and outlying areas. Les said the bills were rung up on the old cash registers and orders were handwritten. The grocery bags were dispensed down a chute to the downstairs car park for delivery. There was a section in the store where office workers handled all the accounting and administration.
Les then moved to the floorcovering department where he was out of the store 70 per cent of the time measuring and quoting. He moved into the furniture department and then into curtains and blinds where he was once again measuring and quoting. From there Les moved into toys and leisure and then into the electrical department.
Spotlight traded from the building in 2003 until it moved to South Nowra in 2015. Since then the property has sat dormant.
- Information courtesy Robyn Florance and Alan Clark and their book The Changing Face of the Nowra CBD. Special thanks toShoalhaven in the 20th Century and the Shoalhaven Historical Society for the wonderful photographs.