Pirie retail 'icon' set to shut its doors

Prests Pty Ltd has gone from a bustling department store to a small giftware and manchester shop … and now it is set to close after 141 years’ business.

The department store was in a building recently vacated by Radio Rentals and was the headquarters of the Prest family empire extending to Booleroo Centre, Peterborough, Port Augusta, Crystal Brook and Port Germein.

Founded in 1877, it became an icon of the retail scene in the Mid North and employed manager Helen Grace for 41 years.

She joined a year after the centenary of 1977 when patriarch Peter Prest sat with his son Mick Prest and dozens of staff in a commemorative photograph.

The ownership changed to Knoyle Cross and Ken Kwan and more recently just Mr Cross. This sparked downsizing that has seen Helen Grace and office manager Annette McMahon run the business like it was their own.

“We are an old-style business – we pride ourselves on customer service,” Mrs Grace said.

With the team rising above and beyond the call of duty to help customers, it is not surprising many tears have been shed by people upon learning the news of the fate of the store.

Mrs Grace and Mrs McMahon, who has worked for the business for 45 years, used to do little things for customers such as when an elderly couple bought a bedspread, they called at their home and fitted it to the bed. With casual sales assistants Christine Promnitz, who has 18 years’ service, and Helen Blieschke, who has 15 years’ experience, the staff has notched up 119 years service with the company.

Mrs McMahon said “we have run it like our own business – we have been really lucky”. “Yesterday, I had a tear in my eye when I was telling someone about what was happening. They are all nice people. That is the thing I am going to miss,” she said.

Mrs Grace said she had worked in most departments of the store including men’s wear and giftware before becoming manager. “I have never worked anywhere else. I have never even prepared a resume for another job,” she said. “Some of the customers are stunned and sad at the news. Many customers have had accounts with us for more than 50 years.”

The last accounts have been sent out and owner Mr Cross, of Adelaide, who is now 90 and ready to retire has decided to close the doors. Not all will be lost because selected stock will be moved to E Street Clothing and Accessories nearby in Ellen Street at the October long weekend. They will continue to offer the same quality brands of giftware and homeware and customer service. Prests will continue to trade until October 31.