Home' Greymouth Star : February 7th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Saturday, February 7, 2015 - 7
ames Renton started the West Coast
dynasty of Renton Hardware in an old hotel
on the corner of Hamilton and Tancred
streets in 1874, when Hokitika was but
10 years-old. Like so many, James and his
brother Robert were drawn by the allure
of gold in 1866, and when the gold was
scarce they worked their blacksmith shop in
In 1874, James branched out as an ironmonger,
buying up the nearby corner hotel, which he stripped
and converted into a hardware store. An enterprising
Scotsman, he organised buying agents in London,
Birmingham, Glasgow, New York and San Francisco,
and the new Hokitika business prospered.
He always bought his stock on the best terms
available, selling tools, household and kitchen
appliances, mining and sawmilling equipment and
building materials, with the motto ‘If you buy right,
you can sell right’.
To make way for expansion the original store was
demolished and a new double-storey building was
constructed on the same corner site by local builders
Stevenson and McMillan in 1908, and still stands
In 1898 the family business was transferred to
James Renton’s six sons but by 1910 two of them,
Paul H and Robert, went into partnership after
buying out their brothers. They ran the operation
until retiring in 1945, when Paul E L Renton
became managing director, having worked for the
company since joining the business with his late
brother Jack in 1926.
Renton Hardware Co Ltd through the years was
progressive in sales and always kept pace with the
times, trading with technology while also monitoring
rural development. It was the leading supplier of all
farming equipment and dealt in ploughs, harrows,
milking machines and separators, along with petrol
and Lister diesel engines.
Jack Renton jnr started working for the family
business in 1957 and took over as managing director
from his father Paul in 1976, holding the position
for 31 years until retiring in 2008.
“I was 18 years-old when I first started work.
Everybody did everything, from unloading pipes and
cement to selling cups and saucers,” Jack smiled.
“ When I started it was the tail end of shipping
goods (from Hokitika) to Haast and Jackson Bay.
Shipping had always played a large part in the store
operation prior to the opening of the Haast Pass
highway. The only access to Haast back then was by
cattle track so shipping was important for Renton’s.
“My grandfather (Paul H Renton) had formed a
shipping company, the South Westland Shipping
Co with Perry and Co, a grocery firm, along with
a number of the people down south, and was the
chairman of directors. The shipping company would
take down supplies to South Westland and bring
back stock. The company operated a number of ships
including the Elsie, Gael and Hauiti, which were
loaded and unloaded from the Hokitika wharf.”
Renton Hardware also had interests in the North
Westland Shipping Co Ltd and ran a freighter
called the Zephyr II in 1952, shipping cargo which
included machinery, steel, iron and cement to the
South Westland wharfs, and returning loaded with
silver pine posts destined for the North Island.
“The off-duty Seaview attendants would unload
the cement off the ships at the Hokitika wharf. The
Renton’s store had three bulk storage sheds across
the road from the main store which were used to
hold cement, pipes and bolts.”
In the early days the hardware store was labour
intensive but over the years the whole operation
moved with the times.
“Things were manual early on. We had three office
girls who were full-time typing, an office manager,
shop manager and all up around 14 full-time staff,
plus dad and I,” Jack said.
“ We were the supplier of steel and bolts for the
gold dredges, chainsaws for the mills and Forest
Ser vice, and we supplied most houses in South
Westland with a diesel generator, which we used to
ser vice as well.”
The store went through a number of name changes
through the years, originally operating as James
Renton, then James Renton and Sons, Renton
Brothers and finally trading as Renton Hardware Co
The Renton family was also responsible for getting
Hokitika’s early aviation off the ground, and Jack
Renton snr became the first licensed West Coast
pilot back in 1929. He worked with his brother Paul
at the Hamilton Street store, until he was tragically
killed in a plane crash on Mount Turiwhate in
Jack Renton jnr was named after his late uncle,
and he says his uncle and father were trail-blazers in
West Coast air transport.
“ Dad was the founding director of Air Travel Ltd,
and he says Uncle Jack was always mechanically
minded. The Hokitika Airport was originally
developed on the south side of the Hokitika River,
on the Renton family farm in the early 1930s.
It quickly became the home base for Air Travel.
The land was part of the family farm, which my
grandfather Paul H Renton owned. It was donated
to the aero club, and as well some government land
on the Southside was also used.
“ Jack carried the first airmail to Haast and had
flights down south. He always picked out sites along
the beaches or inland areas, where landing strips
would be. Dad took over as secretary when Uncle
Jack died and became a shareholder and director of
Having air transport access to the remote areas of
South Westland was good for the hardware store,
too, as it provided a direct link and quick turnaround
in getting some supplies down to southern
Jack recalls a number of changes since his first day
on the job, in 1957.
“The opening of the Haast Pass highway in 1965
opened up South Westland. In 1963, there was an
increased usage in chainsaws and the Forest Ser vice
and the mills were good customers of ours. We built
a separate showroom and workshop adjacent to the
main retail store. We put a drive-through builders
supply store which covered 800 square metres,
attached to the rear of the store, in 1967. The new
store allowed us to sell off the separate buildings
of the cement store, hardware pipe yard and iron
store that were across the road in Tancred Street.
Prior to that, the three buildings were left open and
we would have to leave the main shop and run up
the road to sell cement, nuts and bolts, sheet iron
and angle iron. Then we would rush back and sell
someone a cup and saucer,” he grinned.
Further improvements included a new concrete
floor in the main shop, with the addition of
enhanced display areas and modern offices.
In 1981, John Burns of Greymouth was jointly
purchased by a newly formed company owned
by Campbell Hardware Greymouth and Renton
“This gave us access to Greymouth, with a retail
hardware store in Mackay Street and a building
supply store in Herbert Street,” Jack said.
After 51 years working for the family business Jack
retired as managing director seven years ago, with
nephew Graeme King at the helm until closing.
“An increase of corporate housing companies
affiliated to national building supply chains and a
shift to on-line shopping has had a marked effect on
our business, with goods and ser vices being able to
be supplied from larger cities,” Jack lamented.
Year after year, a trademark plain Renton’s calendar
has hung on the wall of many homes from Hokitika
to Haast. Sadly, 2015 will be the last.
Renton Hardware has helped build Hokitika since 1874. The big two-storey landmark building in Hamilton Street has endured floodwaters lapping
at the doorstep and survived the Great Depression. But in a few days the business that has been like a family friend for generations of Hokitika
families for 141 years will quietly shut the doors one last time. Reporter PAUL McBRIDE talks to retired managing director Jack Renton about
the highs and lows of the family business.
Jack Renton. Inset, Paul E L Renton.
John Anderson behind the counter at Renton’s in 1970.
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