Shut just 3 times in 41 years

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Ken and Ellen Clutterbuck closed their shop just three times in the 41 years they owned the business.

The couple sold Clutterbucks Four Square in Mataura earlier this month.

In the 41 years, a fire, a flood and a stocktake were the only times the seven-day-a-week business closed its doors to the public.

The flood, in 1978, forced the closure of the shop for a week for a clean-up and to dump stock, Mr Clutterbuck said.

He started his working life as a grocer in East Gore in 1965.

“It was the only job in The Ensign and I got it.”

During that time, he delivered groceries on a bike.

He went on to manage several self-help stores before buying the Mataura outlet.

The couple had been married for just two years when they bought the shop.

They lived in the dwelling behind the store for five years with their young children.

Mr Clutterbuck said his wife’s input was invaluable over the years.

“Without her support I would have gone years ago. Her energy was amazing.”

His wife had been a hairdresser before they took over the shop.

He had absolutely loved the grocery trade, he said.

During their four-decade ownership there had been huge changes in retail, the biggest being the introduction of technology.

“When I started in groceries they gave you a pencil.”

But now, all administration, including ordering of stock, was carried out on computers.

It used to be the norm that people paid in cash or cheques, but now the majority of transactions were carried out using eftpos.

“I used to have to go to the bank two or three times a week just to avoid a cash build-up,” he said.

In recent times, the cashless society had led to cash takings dwindling, he said.

The couple noticed they were serving the grandchildren of their original customers, and they had a good knowledge of the successive generations of families in the area.

The majority of shoppers were “locals”, he said.

Clutterbucks became a Four Square 17 years ago.

The couple had weathered economic downturns as well as changes in the way goods were packaged and delivered.

Milk used to be sold in glass bottles, and lolly mixtures had risen in price from 10c to $1.

Courier delivery was also a major change from picking up goods at either the Gore or Mataura railway stations or bus depots, he said.

In the early years, the couple bought oysters by the sack and had people open them for them. Two and a-half dozen oysters retailed for $2.20, Mr Clutterbuck said.

“There were queues up for them,” he said.

“First day of the season was just ferocious.”

In summer, he used to travel to Central Otago to buy fruit in bulk and people would pour into the shop to stock up on fruit for preserving and jam-making, he said.

The couple expanded the shop 26 years ago.

Mr Clutterbuck paid tribute to the many excellent staff they had employed over the years, who helped make the shop a smooth-running operation.

The couple planned to keep living in the Gore area.

“We want to continue living in Eastern Southland – it’s a lovely area to live,” Mrs Clutterbuck said.