Topic: Darfield Drapery

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Darfield Drapery and Mrs Lee became a local legend.

The Press, Thursday March 11, 1993.

Darfield Drapery after 30 years:

In March 1963 Mrs Margaret Lee began a drapery business in Darfield on a temporary basis. Thirty years later she is still there. She and her husband, Maurice, had leased the small shop at the east end of Darfield. The store had previously been used as a little paint and hardware store by Jack Rich. Mrs Lee was only planning a six months stint as a store owner so the small premises suited her.

The reason for the short expected life of the shop was that the main line of goods was to be wool and the Lees' thought that after the winter the demand would drop off. Thirty years later the demand for wool is stronger than ever, all year round.

Mrs Lee began the business with a few packets of wool, eight pairs of knitting needles, 10 knitting patterns and four floral towels (just to fill up the space). The shop fixtures were also basic with an old table painted to serve as a counter, and a chocolate box for a till.

The Lees' business progressed on the basis that as two packets of wool sold they could then afford to purchase three more and as this snowballed, the shop grew. Later enough funds became available so other stock items and fixtures were added. After four years trading the shop was bursting at the seams so the decision was made to move to a larger shop. A shop at the west end of the township was chosen since it increased their floor space many times and it is in the heart of the trading area.

Another 20 years later growth in their business forced them to shift again. Once again following in the footsteps of Jack Rich, the Lees moved into a building he had used as a paint and hardware store.This time they had increased their floor space to more than 10 times the size of the original
shop and now, after just four short years, it seems that this is a little small at times. While the Lees still sell wool and patterns it is apparent that
they stock a lot of other products. The goods include women's and men's clothing, bedding, dress fabrics, babies clothes, all manner of dress sundries, and shoes. The greatest upsurge in demand in recent years has been for craft supplies. Mrs Lee says that since they began to display at the Craft Show people have realised the extent of their stock and now travel from all over Canterbury to select from their wide range. The materials for patchwork are very popular as are the tapestries and craft work for children.

Another turning point for the business was the 1990 Week of Celebrations held in the township which drew a large number of people from the city. Mrs Lee says more people now realise that Darfield is only half an hour's drive from Christchurch and now many people make a regular trip to the country to shop. The increase in business has meant an increase to four staff. Mrs Lee says the secret to the success of the Darfield Drapery is personal service and the motto of "lower prices being the best advertising", but she recognises that without the loyal support of the local people, they would not have lasted in business after 30 years.

Old styles return, but not the prices:

In 30 years of business at the Darfield Drapery, Mrs Margaret Lee has seen some quite dramatic changes in the cost of items, which have moved steadily upwards. When she began, the price of wool was two shillings and threepence, but this soon moved up to two shillings and sixpence. When it finally crept up to 99 cents Mrs Lee began to worry "That once lt reached one dollar people would stop buying it and that would threaten the business. Her worst fears were never realised as the same wool now sells for $4.70 with as greater demand as ever. The trends in clothing and materials have been more amusing. Mrs Lee says she is now seeing the same fashions and materials that were around in the 1960s. The customers who descended on the shop prior to the Darfield High School Formal brought a smile to her face as they all wanted the latest fashion material - satin, brocade, and velvet. Men's fashions have had a turn around too with bold and colourful ties being in demand, as are patterned underwear. However Mrs Lee says that the country men are more conservative than their city counterparts, so she does not sell anything too outrageous to them.Baby gear has also come in for many changes in recent years but Mrs Lee says that the scare of cot death seems of have had an affect on buying. New mothers now seem to opt for more traditional Viyella baby gowns rather than sleeping suits, and the flannel squares and woollen singlets are also preferred over the synthetic options.

Mrs Lee's flair for keeping up with the trends was made obvious on one occasion when a Darfield women returned from overseas with a classy piece of material she had purchased only to find that Mrs Lee had it in a variety of colours.She also scored well with a "mother of the bride" who had selected the satin for her daughter's wedding gown at a bridal shop in Christchurch, but was startled to find it was $27 a metre. She then went to the Darfield Drapery and purchased the same material for $9.20 a metre.Mrs Lee says that the interest in the material and trimmings for bridal wear has built up to a point where she will now have to stock a lot more motifs and bead work in order to cope with the demand.

 Malvern News, Issue 398, Friday 17 April 2009 .

Final countdown to the end of an era.

After 46 years trading as the Darfield Drapery, Margaret and Maurice Lee will close the doors on their iconic main street business at the beginning of next month. This is a business that has grown from small beginnings housed in the little shop near the railway line on Mathias Street to the emporium it now is, supplying a vast selection of haberdashery and clothing requirements. The Lees arrived in Darfield because Maurie had secured a position with the local power board as a linesman. Newly married, and with the job offering a house for the applicant, Darfield seemed like the ideal start. When Margaret encountered difficulty sourcing wool for knitting she decided to rectify the matter. In March 1963 she began her small enterprise in Jack Rich's vacant Mathias street store with a few packets of woollen yarn, eight pairs of knitting needles, ten patterns and four floral towels to fill up the space. Never intending to be in business for longer than six months Margaret was happy with the small premises and basic shop fittings - a painted table for a counter and a chocolate box for the money. Stock was purchased carefully and only from the proceeds of previous sales. After four years of successful trading and with their current premises now bursting at the seams a move was necessary, so Darfield Drapery relocated to a larger store on the main street.

Eventually, after twenty years, they made another move to their current site (ironically also vacated by Jack Rich) with a floor area more than ten times that of the original shop. Darfield Drapery has always prided itself, and quite rightly so, on its exemplary personal service and it has been this marketing aspect that has seen the business promoted to the thriving concern it is now. The store is crammed with virtually everything in the underwear, sleepwear, outerwear and footwear departments as well as beautiful and fashionable fabrics and trims, knitting wools, craft supplies and haberdashery. The very young and the very old appreciate the old-style service with a smile Margaret, Maurie and their dedicated staff provide and when the store closes its doors for the last time these are things that will be impossible to recreate.

However, as always, Darfield Drapery's success has been the Lee's innovative attitude to their business survival and no more so than now. When the doors close on the Darfield store, trading on-line will continue! So for all those who have enjoyed the quality products and value for money Darfield Drapery has offered for the 46 years of their existence they will still be able to get more of the same via the internet.

Southern View, Wednesday May 13, 2009.

 Darfield drapers say farewell:

 The day before the Darfield Drapery closed its doors for the last time was one of reminiscing for owners Margaret and Maurice Lee as many of the store's loyal and long-standing customers called in to chat with the couple about old times and the place they and their store had filled in the community. The Lees shut up shop for good on Saturday, May 2, although the drapery will continue in cyberspace.

"Over the years people often came in to the shop to fill in time and they always ended up buying something," Mrs Lee said. "The loyalty of people has been wonderful - the loyal friendships of people is what I'll remember." The Lees started the business in 1963 and over the years established themselves as an important part of the small, close-knit town, building up loyalty and trust with their customers by going the extra mile.

The couple's son Graham and daughter Kathy have also been involved. "They have been very much a part of it, especially Kathy, who has an accounting degree and has done the books," Mrs Lee said. But after 46 years it was time to call it a day at the Darfield Drapery and that meant a closing-down sale which saw customers flocking to the store to bag the bargains. An item on a television current affairs programme attracted even more attention, Mrs Lee said."We had 10 people a day ringing from the North Island and from as far south as Queenstown and asking us to send things. And there was a terrific lot of Christchurch regulars who came out for the sale."

For her retirement Mrs Lee said she was looking forward to getting more involved with her crafts, and "taking it easy for a while". But it's not quite the end of the line for the Darfield Drapery. There is now a website, so loyal customers can still patronise their favourite drapery store, but from the comfort of their home.


Darfield Drapery was started 37 years ago by Margaret and Maurice Lee with 50 pounds ($100) and the intention was to stay in business for six months, to gain a little extra cash. They sold wool and accessories, with a table for a counter, and a chocolate box for the till. Business grew quite rapidly, and gradually a wider range of goods were stocked for sale. Initially the premises were in Mathias Street by the railway line until the Lee's moved to premises now occupied by part of the present Four Square, and the final move to the premises they now occupy.

Due to the wide range and quantity of stock, the store attracts people from far and wide. Regular customers come from Christchurch and the West Coast while local patronage has been very much appreciated. One of the advantages of shopping locally is that Margaret is able to access out-of-season merchandise for people travelling or posting overseas. Maurice and Margaret often have success in procuring goods that customers cannot get elsewhere, and is one of the advantages they see of dealing with a privately owned business.

After a long career Maurice and Margaret have decided it is time to retire and let new owners carry the business forward. To mark the occasion they are having a sale with some truly outstanding bargains. We wish them well in their retirement.

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