The bricks and mortar of our timeless shop are the cultural memories of a young country that saw everything from World Wars, to pandemics (both Influenza in the early part of the 20th century and COVID19 in the early part of the 21st century), from a Great Depression to a Global Financial Crisis. And along the way the growth and maturity of a fashion store on an island in the South Pacific – Aotearoa NZ.
The Thomas’s story in Marlborough began in 1912, when John Emlyn Thomas and wife Kathleen bought an empty shop in Blenheim and moved to a new life on the Wairau Plains.
Trading conditions were tough in a small town. John had come to New Zealand from the North of Wales, where he was born in 1880. Realising that opportunities for employment in his homeland were diminishing, he set forth to a new life on the other side of the world. Arriving in Wellington in 1910, John spent several months acquainting himself with his new environment, eventually accepting a position at a small drapery shop in Otaki.
During one of his regular trips to Wellington, John met a talented young retailer named Kathleen who shared his interest and skills in retailing and was employed at the time at Kirkcaldie & Stains. The move to Blenheim followed not long after, but that trip in itself was to be marked by catastrophe, as all of their worldly possessions were burnt to a cinder when the shed at Queens Wharf in which they were stored was consumed by fire.
Thus, the beginnings of Thomas’s in Blenheim delivered a few moments of adversity for the young couple, but they built their name in business, their customer base and their product range steadily over the years.
John and Kathleen’s son, Terence, anticipating the retirement of his father, would eventually take over the store. Starting on two pounds and ten shillings per week, Terence soon got stuck into the family business and Thomas’s in Blenheim had found some new momentum in the tenacious young salesmen – just in time for the business, the retail sector and the world to be faced with some serious adversity.
Firstly, the retail industry in New Zealand was thrown into pandemonium by the government of 1938 when strict import controls were imposed. The next year, the business was to face a major challenge when founder John Thomas was struck down with a serious attack of pneumonia, dying one week later. Given this, Terence attempted to persuade brother-in-law Austin Andrews to leave The National Bank and join Thomas’s.