On Sunday, September 12, Pat and Gerald Rowles passed an important milestone. It is the day they marked running Gulgong Timber and Hardware for exactly 34 years. They decided recently to sell up and pass the baton to new owners.
Gerald moved to Gulgong with his family when he was just one-year-old before, moving away when he got a bit older working various jobs. He returned to Gulgong as a builder when the opportunity came up to get in on a piece of the then Loneragan's General Store, the timber yard. Gerald had some business partners come and go through the years before buying out his existing partners three years ago. Gerald said his youngest son had expressed interest in taking over before deciding to pursue another career, so he and Pat decided it was time to hang up their hats.
"We put it on the market, and it's been a good time to put it on the market and it sold very quickly," Gerald said.
The business was purchased in a three-way agreement between locals Troy McKellar, David Woods and Tony Ruming. It is something Gerald and Pat are very happy with, given they had hoped to sell it locally.
"David has worked in Gulgong in retail for 38 years. I'm a relative newcomer, and Tony is a local builder. So the mix of talent is quite good with those blokes, and Troy has business expertise and contacts and that sort of thing. So I think it's quite a good mix," Gerald said.
Troy agreed and said a commitment to the town drove their decision to buy.
"It's a local business, it's been there for a long time. And after speaking to Pat and Gerald, they wanted to ensure that a local bought the business to continue on that loyalty and commitment to the town," Troy said.
Likewise, Troy said they are looking forward to bringing some new products to the store.
"All of the feedback has been really positive. Everyone's really excited," Troy said.
"Especially when we start saying that we're going to bring in a few lines of dog food and some rural supplies and that sort of stuff.
"We'd just like to thank Pat and Gerald for building such a great business over the last three decades thank you to them for the opportunity."
Pat and Gerald have run the business together during its entire operation. Gerald laughed when asked what it's like working full-time with your spouse for 34 years.
"Interesting - no, it's going okay. We just we argue and yell at each other - we've been married for almost 40 years. So it's probably just typical, but we get along okay," Gerald laughed.
Gerald served his final customer last week, local bloke Will Tomlinson who just happened to be his very first customer 34 years ago.
"I can remember - he was only a young bloke of course - and he waited around for us change over so he could be the first one," Gerald said.
"So I said to him a few weeks ago once we'd announced what was going on, I said 'you better come in Billy and I'll give you a beer and you can be the last one'."
For Pat and Gerald, the sale of Gulgong Timber and Hardware 'pretty much' means retirement for the dual 65-year-olds. Gerald will stick around the shop for a few months yet as the new owners learn the ropes.
"We'd like to travel, but it doesn't matter because we can't at the moment anyway. There's a couple of different charities around that do fencing after bush fires and floods and this sort of stuff. And so we'll have a caravan and it makes life so easy. You can just go and pull up in your nearest town and you know, I'd be quite keen to do something like that," he said.
"There's always work to do out there. And I'm also on the board of the RSL club. So there's there's plenty to do.
"But it will just be something different, and you don't have to jump out of bed at six o'clock in the morning and get over to work at 7.30... which will be nice change."
Thirty-four years in business is longer than most, and much has changed for the business that has become a staple of the Gulgong CBD. None bigger than the steady march of new technology.
"One of the big changes is technology, of course, in my time here we were pre faxes and now faxes don't exist anymore," Gerald explained.
"When we bought the place we had hand-written docket books and a wooden cash drawer that was just under the bench and you'd drag it out and that's what you do. When the actual time for the changeover happened, it happened in a solicitor's office in Sydney somewhere as they do, and then you'd get to two o'clock they rang and said 'righto, the changeover has happened'. So they took the money out, took their docket books away, and we put our change in and put our docket books in and away we went.
"Now we've got our IT blokes crawling around the place running cables in changing computer systems. That's probably the biggest difference."
To some, Gulgong seems steeped firmly in the past, but Gerald said the timber and hardware business has adapted quite a bit over the last four decades, driven mostly by the coal mines and more recently, people doing home improvements during lockdown.
"The coal mines and that were up and running pretty well by the time [we started]. So they started going in the late 70s I suppose when Ulan started hiring lots of people," he said.
"Gulgong has just gotten bigger. The number of people in the area, not so much in the town, with all these 24 acre and 40 acre blocks has been a big difference to us to as far as selling stuff. We sell a lot to the DIY handyman."
The reaction from that community has been overwhelmingly supportive. "It's been quite good, I even got a batch of scones this morning from one very nice lady," Gerald said.
"That is the end of another long era in Gulgong. Thank you so much for all the help you have given me over the years, and thank you for your patience when I asked uneducated questions. All the very best in the future," Gulgong resident Wendy Borchert wrote, a sentiment shared by the dozens of comments left on the businesses Facebook page.
Gerald and Pat wanted to thank the community for all their support over the years and said the business wouldn't have stuck around if it weren't for its patronage.
"One thing people have said to us over the years is that the last thing Gulgong needs is to lose its hardware shop," Gerald said. "You can go to Dubbo or Mudgee to buy the big things but if you want to buy 500 grams of nails or screws you don't want to quickly drive to Mudgee.
"We're really pleased with the support we've had from the community over the years. As I said, we do a bit of volunteer work in the Opera House and the club and that sort of thing and what goes around comes around."
Gulgong Timber and Hardware is still operating regular hours during COVID lockdown and Troy said they're as busy as ever.
"The figures since COVID has been exceptional, a lot of people are working from home now and have got that time to do a few little handyman jobs that they've been putting off. So business is very good at the minute," Troy said.
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