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Marianne Smith

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253-261 Queen Street

In a time where most women’s wealth was dependent on inheritance or marriage, the daughter of an Irish grocer built a fortune in the halls of Auckland business.

Born in Portaferry, County Down, Ireland in 1851 Marianne Smith came to Auckland, with her husband William Henry Smith, in 1880. She quickly established her own shop, Smith’s Cheap Drapery Warehouse on the corner of Queen Street and Airedale Street.

Marianne ran the shop on a strategy of high turnover through low retail margins – hence her motto, ‘A nimble sixpence rather than a slow shilling'. She also specialised in supplying country customers and built relationships with Māori customers through advertising in the Māori-language newspaper Te Korimako.

Initially, her business couldn’t support both husband and wife, but it soon became so successful that William left his job at a rival store and joined her. The next year they invited Marianne’s brother, Andrew Caughey, to become a partner and they expanded the firm into Smith & Caughey, Drapers and Clothiers. By 1884 they had moved to a modest two story building that was to form the kernel of the impressive shop that is their current location.

Although Marianne did not become a partner in the firm she remained vitally involved, travelling abroad to source new products and serving on the Board as its Director from 1916 until her death in 1938.

Marianne was noted for her personal frugality but in consequence was known as a generous benefactor particularly in supporting women and children.

Read more at http://nzfashionmuseum.org.nz/smith-caugheys/

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