Smiths City celebrates 100 years in business

HISTORY: The builders show room at Smiths City's Colombo St store in 1973.

From auctioning off livestock to selling electronics and furniture, Smiths City has come a long way in its 100 years. Bridget Rutherford looks back on the Christchurch-based company’s history

Few businesses could say they have been around for 100 years, especially after they had been placed in receivership.

But Smiths City can.

The Christchurch-based company, which has 37 stores and more than 500 employees nationwide, is celebrating a century in business.

Founded by Henry Cooper Smith in 1918, it started trading as City Market, initially auctioning off grain, livestock and general goods.

Mr Smith bought the former Ward & Company City Brewery site at 550 Colombo St to start operating the business.

Gradually, it expanded its product range to include new and used hardware and furniture.

After originally leasing some saleyards on St Asaph St, it built a horse sale ring building on the Colombo St site in 1933.

In 1938, Smiths City Market Ltd was registered as a private company, while in 1953, Smiths City Market Finance Ltd was registered and started business.

The Colombo St store started to expand in the early 1960s when Smiths City Market bought the Sucklings Shoes cafeteria buildings and another block of shops to expand the store frontage.

Smiths City Market Ltd was floated as a public company in 1972.

Come 1988, the group turned into two chains; Smiths City Ltd and Smiths DIY Ltd.

Smiths City Ltd was to sell homewares, while Smiths DIY Ltd was for selling builders’ supplies and sports goods. But trading become difficult, and a number of North Island stores were sold.

A new board of directors was appointed, and the Smith family connection to the board ended.

In 1991, the company was placed in receivership, and a new trading company, Smiths City (Southern) Ltd was formed to operate the stores in the South Island.

The South Island arm was released from receivership in
1993.

The following year Smiths City Group Ltd was released, making it the first publicly-listed company in the country to recover from receivership.

When the February 22, 2011, earthquake struck, several of Smiths City’s Christchurch buildings were damaged to varying degrees and closed.

One of those was the Colombo St store, which also housed the administration offices. The company committed to rebuilding it, and the store reopened in November 2011.

Smiths City has four stores in Christchurch, including Colombo St, Northwood, Upper Riccarton and Bush Inn.

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