A first foray into fashion brings an abrupt end to 50 years of retail history

Another long-running clothing store in South Canterbury is closing with the finger of blame firmly pointed at Covid-19.

Fashion Focus, in the Highfield Village shopping center in Timaru, will close at the end of September, after owner Suzanne Talbot made the “difficult decision to close”.

“It was tough, but it was the right thing to do – just draw a line in the sand somewhere,” she said.

The decision follows the closure of Cameron stores in Timaru, Waimate and Oamaru, which closed after the company that owned them went into voluntary liquidation in March, just before the brand turned 100 years in business.

Fashion Focus has been in business at the Highfield site, under various owners, for “more than fifty years”, Talbot said.

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When she bought the company in March 2019, she focused on developing special occasion wear and fashion for older women as niches.

But the pandemic has made particular inroads into those markets, both during the lockdown and in the months that followed when events were called off, with many people, especially the elderly, opting to stay home.

In 2021, Talbot expanded into a new boutique on Stafford St, which it says was at the time in response to the need for more space, a desire to expand into younger fashion markets and tall and support the city center. retail area.

But in retrospect, she described the move as “a supreme disaster”.

Talbot will close Fashion Focus at the end of September, but will maintain an online presence.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Talbot will close Fashion Focus at the end of September, but will maintain an online presence.

Talbot said she had been reassured by the positive economic recovery after the first lockdown, during which spending surged across the economy.

“It didn’t quite make up for you being closed, but there was definitely a rebound, so we thought, well, if we go back into another lockdown, we’ll get the rebound that will help.”

But after the second lockdown, retail spending fell significantly across the country, with no resurgence in spending to match 2020.

“With the two stores, Fashion Focus and Inspired on Stafford, we just limped after that.

“We had terrible summer trading – the weather was terrible – and we went straight from there to minimal trading during the fall because everyone was sick or wanted to stay home because they didn’t want to. not catch Covid.”

Talbot is clear on what went wrong.

“I don’t blame anyone but Covid, he’s just a total victim of Covid. You can’t blame people for wanting to stay home and stay safe, and you can’t blame people for not wanting to go shopping for clothes because there’s nothing to wear them.

It was Talbot’s first foray into the fashion industry, which she says also worked against her.

“It was not a very good time to learn, it was not very forgiving for a beginner.

Camerons Clothing went into liquidation in March 2022, closing stores in Timaru, Waimate and Oamaru with nearly $1 million owed to creditors.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Camerons Clothing went into liquidation in March 2022, closing stores in Timaru, Waimate and Oamaru with nearly $1 million owed to creditors.

“I only had the store for a year before Covid happened, and that just wasn’t long enough. Retailers that have been in business longer probably had more inventory, they could have built up some capital behind them and might have held up better. »

She said the decision to close the store was a “very, very difficult decision”.

“You go into business and it becomes part of your life – the people you employ become really important and you worry about your customers too.”

“It’s disgusting, because you build these relationships and then close the doors – there’s been a store here for over 50 years.”

But she saw little relief on the horizon as the cost of living continued to rise.

“People deal with it. But you know, it’s your clothes and your shoes – everybody’s mortgage rates go up as interest rates go up, maybe it’s your new top or your new pants.

Talbot will continue to sell select special occasion outfits online, with viewing by appointment, and she expects that market to heat up as events return.

“People are going to want the best dresses, and there’s not much to buy right now.”

Talbot said the impact of Covid combined with her relative newness to the industry and a 'disastrous' expansion in Stafford Street, led her to unplug her Highfield retail store

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Talbot said the impact of Covid combined with her relative newness to the industry and a ‘disastrous’ expansion in Stafford Street, led her to unplug her Highfield retail store

And she said the fear of Covid encouraged many of her older customers online.

“It’s amazing how many of these 70+ – just since Covid – are shopping online.

“They don’t want to go out, so they have their kids to show them how. To some extent, online is much more important than when I first bought the store. »

Talbot does not expect the slot to remain empty for long.

“There’s amazing parking, it’s flat, there’s a supermarket here…and lots of window space for displays.”

Talbot said that in addition to managing the online activity, she plans to take time to refresh and recharge, as well as focus on her children and elderly father.

She expected the store to stay open until at least the end of September, depending on the remaining stock.

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