Gloucester's McRae's Fashion Centre celebrates 50 years in one family

Margaret McInnes and Jill Laurie have been working together for many year at McRae's. Photo Anne Keen
Margaret McInnes and Jill Laurie have been working together for many year at McRae's. Photo Anne Keen

McRae's Fashion House will celebrate a milestone this month

On Monday August 10, the business will have been operated by the current McRae family for 50 years.

On that day in 1970 Lois and Ian McRae bought the business, which already sported the family name, from Ian's cousin, Bessie McRae. According to their daughter Jill Laurie, Lois ran the clothing store until her death in 1993. It was then passed onto Jill and her sister, Heather Jenkins, who continue to operate the business.

"If we didn't have our wonderful staff and wonderful customers, we wouldn't still be here after 50 years," Jill smiled.

For Jill and long-time staff member Margaret McInnes, their customers are like family. They have known many since they were babies and they've helped them dress for special occasions, like a debutante ball or a wedding.

In fact they know them so well, that Margaret often has them in mind when she is ordering in new season stock and can help them find just the right outfit to mark any occasion.

Robyn Baker, Margaret McInnes, Jill Laurie and Lois McRae. Photo supplied

Robyn Baker, Margaret McInnes, Jill Laurie and Lois McRae. Photo supplied

It's a skill that comes from years in retail. And through those years, they have seen some major fashion changes.

"Things are more casual now," Margaret smiled. "People don't wear longline bras, girdles or satin gloves anymore."

The pair fondly recall a time in Gloucester when there was a ball every fortnight, and it was all the rage for customers to come into the shop for a new frock and get their hair done for the occasion.

Even though some of these fashion trends are a thing of the past, they agree that there is more variety in the stock they hold these days.

Jill was 21-years-old when her parents bought the business and she remembers a few funny stories from the past.

"One weekend our parents received a phone call to say a carpet snake from Yates and Twomey's hardware store was crawling up a model in the front window," Jill recalled.

The current owners of McRae's are sisters Heather Jenkins and Jill Laurie. Photo supplied.

The current owners of McRae's are sisters Heather Jenkins and Jill Laurie. Photo supplied.

Then there was Mr Finger, the travelling salesman from Sydney who would stop by the shop on this way up the North Coast.

"He'd be driving his combie van loaded with racks of clothes from different fashion warehouses to sell to the fashion shops with his homing pigeons on his front seat." Jill laughed.

Over the past 50 years, the McRae's have seen the normal ebbs and flow of retail business, but nothing compares to the recent prolonged challenges of drought, bushfires and a global pandemic. Regardless, they are excited to celebrate their milestone.

In the time that Jill's family has owned the business, there have been a few changes. When Bessie owned the shop from 1955 until 1970 it was stocked with ladies, children, baby and men's fashion as well as haberdashery and gifts. In the 1960s, there was even a hairdresser working out of the back.

In 1978, Jill's parents purchased the building and in 1981 they completely remodeled the shop. These days the store sells mainly women's fashion, accessories and giftware.

"We are thrilled to be celebrating our 50th anniversary and would like to thank all of our wonderful staff and customers for being so loyal to us over the years," Jill said. "We are very proud to still have our wonderful employee Margaret."

Margaret is the longest serving employee having also worked for Bessie.

"She's the backbone of the business," Jill said.