Historic New Zealand department store chain H&J Smith to close

One of New Zealand’s oldest retailers, Southland department store chain H&J Smith, is to close its doors after 123 years. 

In a statement published on its website, H&J Smith confirmed the decision “to call time” on its department-store business, a decision that will result in the loss of 220 jobs. 

“Please understand when communicating with our team that they may not wish to discuss this with you,” the message read. “We appreciate your support during this unsettling time.”

H&J Smith operates three stores – its 12,000sqm Invercargill flagship which has traded since 1900, and smaller stores in Queenstown and Gore. Two others, in Balclutha and Te Anau, closed after the Covid pandemic.

The decision followed a month-long review and consultation process. 

The H&J Smith Invercargill flagship store.

Sources have confirmed H&J Smith will continue to operate Mitre 10 Mega hardware stores it operates in Queenstown and Invercargill, and its Laser Electrical shop in Invercargill. Some services operated through the department store – including prosthetic lingerie fitting and school uniform supplies – might continue under another business entity. 

The company also owns some Paper Plus franchise stores, a fashion boutique and Gun City, the future of which remain unclear. 

CEO John Green said the decision reflected that the department store model was in decline around the world. 

“We know this is difficult news for our staff and community,” Green told Stuff, pledging to work to find replacement jobs for impacted staff. 

“We want people to walk out of here knowing they have been well-treated throughout the whole process and very proud of the job that they did – as we are of them.”

H&J Smith was founded as a drapery in 1900 and has since grown into one of New Zealand’s largest privately owned retail companies. The Invercargill flagship is believed to be the southernmost department store in the world.

Featured image: The H&J Smith delivery fleet outside St John’s Church, Esk Street, Invercargill in the 1930s.

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