Second hand need not be second best. The trade gives new life to things that would otherwise most probably be lost to a landfill. There are bargains to be had at a second hand shop, and the community is all the more richer for it. Walt Dickson meets some of the characters behind Wairarapa’s best loved second hand stores.
METHOD IN THE MADNESS – BIZARRE ATTRACTIONS
Aptly named Bizarre Attractions, it seems fitting that, even after 23 years, owner Graham Jamieson still hasn’t got around to hanging a sign above the door. And so it is that 133 High Street North in Carterton – next to Wild Oats – is still referred to as The Saddler’s Shop. “People have always known it as that, so who am I to correct them?” Graham says. For nearly 50 years, until 1980, the old timber clad building operated as a saddlery. Maybe in the Daffodil Capital it took well into the back half of the 20th century for the motor vehicle to finally replace the horse? When it did, so swept up in nostalgia was the town that no-one was ready to cut the reins loose. On account of the sheer volume of bric-a-brac and curios crammed into Graham’s shop, there is certainly a sense of a bygone era. The shop is packed to the proverbial rafters, and at first glance it would appear there is no order. However, Graham seems to have a handle on what is where.
As a self-confessed “hoarder”, he sees value in everything. Living by this principle, he is loath to throw anything out. “Basically, I always reckon that if I like it, someone else will like it too. It’s just a matter of how long will it take for that person to come through the door.”
Such was the case when The Wairarapa Journal was talking with Graham and a customer spotted a quarter filled one-pint bottle of 1950’s Stephens’ scarlett ink, which had been gathering dust on a shelf for about two years. She was only too happy to hand over $10 for it. It’s those kinds of experiences that keep Graham opening the door each day, although not on Tuesday and Wednesday which are “strictly days off ”. Outside of his midweek break, he has only ever taken more than two days off in a row twice in 23 years: once when he was having treatment for cancer; and the other when he shut-up shop to visit his daughter in the UK.
MORE THE MERRIER – WATSON’S SECOND HAND SHOP
A word of caution: be prepared to spend a long time in Watson’s Second Hand Shop. Sure, it’s a treasure trove of weird and wonderful things, but this warning is down to the fact that you might end up being locked in.
When owner Perry Thomson’s octogenarian father, Trevor, is on duty, he has been known to shut up shop at the end of day, unwittingly trapping a curious customer or two. Noses pressed against the window is a clear sign that they want to get out – but when Trevor has bolted, it is up to someone else to come to the rescue, Perry laughs. Yes, there is never a dull moment at Watson’s; all the more reason to visit.
Perry and wife Debbie established the business 20 years ago, initially a little up the road and now in the Mansfield Building, a Carterton landmark.
It is the “characters” you meet that make the trade so enjoyable, Perry says. Regular punters to the shop probably say the same thing about the proprietors – as this husband and wife team are good humoured, and a little mischievous. A previous neighbouring business was fellow second hand dealer Callum Perry of Perry’s Mart, now based in Masterton. Perry would revel in the chance to cash in on the confusion if ever someone walked in off the street looking for Callum Perry.
“My son’s name is Callan – so either way we had it covered.” In Carterton, competition is not far away, with two second hand shops just up the road. But neither Perry nor Debbie look at Bizarre Attractions or Fuzzy Vintage as threats.
“For us, it is a case of the more the merrier,” Debbie says.
Like most dealers, Perry and Debbie came into the business more by chance than design – and perhaps much of the charm of Watson’s is the result of neither of them taking it too seriously.
“It’s more a way of life than a big money making venture,” Debbie says. “It is something you can still be doing when you are 88,” she says referring to father-in-law Trevor.
RETRO REVIVAL – FUZZY VINTAGE COLLECTABLES
A self-confessed slave to the 1950s and 70s era, Mark Thomson has found a way of satisfying his passion.
Through Fuzzy Vintage Collectables he can buy, enjoy and then sell on garments and furnishings of the colourful period.
Working in the film industry Monday to Friday in Wellington, he keeps leisurely hours at his Carterton shop which opens in the weekend only.
Something of a new kid on the block, Mark set up the shop eight years ago. The building has a history of being in the trade, previously owned by Perry and Debbie Thomson (no relation) of Watson’s Second Hand Shop, who relocated down the road. Further entrenching the second hand connection, Graham Jamieson of Bizarre Attractions (across the road), was once the tenant of the adjoining flat.
A little “incestuous” perhaps, but Fuzzy bears little resemblance to its more traditional second hand neighbours. In fact, if anything fitting the Fuzzy genre turns up next door or down the road, Mark is likely to swoop in and purchase it.
There is no denying that Fuzzy is pretty cool – a living museum almost of a period not really that long ago. Flamboyant clothing, retro furniture and household goods, paintings and pottery, this place will evoke strong memories for baby boomers and tweak the curiosity of Gen Xers like Mark.
A “magnet to colour”, Mark says he has always had a fascination with the period.
“I’m probably born in the wrong era, hence the self indulgence perhaps?”
It turns out that there are plenty of other people nostalgic for the past, enabling Mark to enjoy many of his purchases for his own pleasure, before putting a price tag on them and flicking them on to someone else to appreciate.
He has no regrets about the stuff he passes on – it means his house is “ever evolving”. Besides, he has been in the game long enough to see some of his previous sales reappear on the market, ready for him to enjoy and start the process over again.
PART OF THE LANDSCAPE – PERCY’S MART
Not on the payroll, but very much part of the establishment, Misty and Peanut work the shop floor at Percy’s Mart. The Yorkshire Terriers are front-of-house, welcoming customers.
Sometimes when spotted in the window, it is not uncommon for a customer to quip, “how much for that doggie in the window?” But neither are for sale, owner Mike Lister says.
Formerly of Lower Hutt – where he ran an auction house – Mike bought the business 20 years ago. Unlike most businesses at the northern end of Masterton’s Queen Street, Percy’s Mart has been part of the landscape for more than 30 years.
To describe it as your bog-standard second hand store would be a disservice, given the extraordinary variety of what is on sale. But then again, isn’t that typical of most second hand stores?
Mike says what keeps him coming back each day is the people he meets.
“What surprises me most about this business is the different types of people who come into the shop,” he says.
They range from those on struggle-street looking to pick up a cheap mattress or old washing machine, to the well-healed scouting for antiques.
“I love it, you can’t tell one day from the next,” Mike says.
“The beauty of the trade is that you never know what you are going to sell. If you work in a clothes shop and a customer comes in, you know you are going to sell them clothes. In a second hand store you don’t know what it will be.”
It’s not surprising then, that Mike lives by the mantra, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”.
“I’ve learnt over the years that there is nothing that you can’t sell, it really just comes down to how much junk do you keep [in stock].”
He also came to the realisation years ago that there is no accounting for taste.
“People will come in and buy a nice old piece of oak furniture, take it home and cover it up with a coat of paint!”
OLD SCHOOL – PERRY’S MART
Like the old treasures that grace the store, Perry’s Mart has stood the test of time. Established in 1960, it is indisputably the granddaddy of second hand stores in Wairarapa, and, according to its website, “simply the best”.
Ben Perry started the then Carterton-based business in 1960. When he died in 1975, son Callum took over and has been at the helm ever since, with the help of mum Thelma up until three years ago.
Strictly speaking Perry’s Mart isn’t wholly “second hand”, selling new furniture as well as peddling old. A sign of the times, perhaps?
The second hand trade isn’t what it used to be, explains Callum. The whole dynamic changed under Rogernomics, washing in a tide of cheap product from overseas.
In more recent years, the proliferation of charity shops has put further pressure on margins. In Masterton alone there are at least five: the Salvation Army Store, Hospice Shop, SPCA Wairarapa Op Shop, Seekers, and Wairarapa Resource Centre. Operating as charities, these do not have to pay tax, and are staffed by volunteers.
Then there is “obsolescence”, Callum says. But as history shows, nothing is ever out of date, it is only temporarily out of fashion.
Having clocked up more than 40 years in the business, it is fair to say Callum is ‘old school’. Establishing a good relationship with customers is paramount. Whatever his formula, clearly it works, as some of his repeat business is from second, and even third generation customers.
A wise owl in an ever decreasing woodland, Callum says it is important to respond to changing times. His shop is notable for its order, range of old and new, and not too expensive pricing.
Callum says he is continually amazed at the things people collect. He has often thought of doing something else with his life, but can’t imagine what.
“You are constantly meeting interesting people, that is what I like about it.”