27 October 2023

Riverina Rewind: A spoonful of sugar from Huthwaites, 'The Friendly Store'

| Michelle Maddison
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woman dressed as Mary Poppins with kids posing as chimneysweeps

”Mary Poppins” surrounded by Wagga kids as chimneysweeps. Photo: Museum of the Riverina – Huthwaites collection.

This week, the Museum of the Riverina takes us back to the iconic Huthwaites department store and its innovative engagement with the Wagga Wagga community.

Huthwaites was a Wagga institution, and there are few people who grew up in the region during the latter half of the 20th century who don’t have at least one memory associated with this beloved business.

With “The Friendly Store” as its motto, reflecting a focus on customer service and generosity to customers, staff and the community, Huthwaites became an institution.

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William George Fitzroy Huthwaite founded the store after seeing an advertisement for a small business for sale for £160 in The Sydney Morning Herald on 9 August, 1905.

The following year, he moved from Lockhart, and the rest, as they say, is history.

From the beginning, Huthwaite was a visionary.

Where others were ignoring the southern section of the small but growing town of Wagga in 1906, W G Huthwaite could see its potential.

old store montage

Huthwaites was an institution in the town, using promotion as a major tool in its success. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

He was a clever man with a knack for promotion through advertisements and gimmicks. Huthwaite also ran regular creative community events and competitions. It was something that the business carried on long after Huthwaite’s death in 1942.

Among the store’s most successful promotions were the Miss Leroy Quest and The Wagga Cup.

Today, we take a look at one of the campaigns from circa 1964 – the Mary Poppins promotion.

To coincide with the showing of Walt Disney’s much-anticipated Mary Poppins at the Plaza Theatre, Huthwaites cast its own Mary Poppins, and she was given the job of parading up and down Baylis Street performing songs from the musical.

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Accompanying her in chimneysweep attire was Peter Brown, who worked in Huthwaites’ display and advertising team. Peter took the part of Burt the ”One-Man Band”, played by Dick Van Dyke in the film.

With a large drum and tambourine strapped to his back and playing a cornet, Peter walked alongside ”Mary”, playing A Spoonful of Sugar.

A chimneysweep competition was held, with children excitedly dressing up as sooty-faced London urchins and gathering around ”Mary” in the Huthwaites carpark. The store went all out, with printed balloons and a giveaway comic of the Mary Poppins story.

On ”Mary Poppins shopping days”, Huthwaites also had what it called ”spit spot specials” celebrating one of the iconic nanny’s catchphrases (‘Righto, clean your teeth, spit spot!’).

One day, the team visited Kurrajong and ”Mary” alighted from a balloon-covered car, which gave the impression she was floating down from the sky. This promotion was advertised widely on television and in The Daily Advertiser.

After serving Wagga for 75 years, Huthwaites’ run ended in 1983 due to a failed corporate takeover.

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