Whitcoulls (or its earlier incarnation Whitcombe & Tombs) has been here since forever. I don’t know how many hours I spent browsing books in their shops as a youngster, or how many Christmas and birthday presents I brought there – not to mention the school stationary, art supplies, and all the rest. There’s lots of competition these days, maybe there always was, but from way back I remember Whitcoulls / W&T as the only game in town.
So it’s particularly sad for me, and I’m guessing for others of my generation, to watch the current wreck of “one of New Zealand’s most famous and enduring retail chains”. Administrators have been called in to take over management, there is to be an “urgent assessment” of the company’s financial status, closures (and of course staff losses) are likely. Holders of Whitcoulls vouchers are being advised to redeem them quickly – but with extra conditions that are causing a lot of ill feeling.
What went wrong? I don’t know the details, but I note that a staff union claims that this is “yet another example of an iconic New Zealand company being bought out and loaded up with debt”. Obviously there has been increased competition in general, but in particular the emergence of Amazon and the whole new category of e-books is changing the way that we buy, distribute and consume the written word. Finally, our currently stalled, possibly in recession economy, was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Let’s hope that Whitcoulls can still be saved. If not it will be a sorry end. Not good news for National, it will be hard to convince the punters that all is well in election year if an institution like Whitcoulls can go under. Not good news for workers and families in NZ, if hundreds more of them lose their livelhood.