Mary Booth was just 15 years old when she started her first job working in a Sydney newsagency.
More than 60 years later, the lively 76-year-old is still toiling away behind a shop counter, driven by her passion for people and her love of retailing.
Almost half her working life has been spent running businesses of her own, including the past eight years as the owner of Pokolbin’s beautiful Wine Glass Gallery.
Facing many challenges throughout her career, Mary’s dedication and determination have seen her overcome all obstacles and achieve more in retailing than she ever dreamed possible.
Now that passion and perseverance has been recognised Australia-wide, with Mary receiving a prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award (+30 years of service) at the 2018 National Retail Awards.
The accolade was presented in front of 300 of Australia’s top retailers during a gala event at the Myer Mural Hall in Melbourne on August 23.
“It felt amazing and was a great honour to earn a National Retail Lifetime Achievement Award,” Mary said.
“It has given me and my business credibility amongst my peers and family, also with my customers and suppliers
“I got a standing ovation for my speech, and all the young retailers kept coming up to me say what an inspiration I was; it was an amazing night.”
Equally amazing is Mary’s retail career, which has taken her from the thriving tourist mecca of The Rocks to the world-renowned destination of the Hunter Valley vineyards.
While she had a number of jobs during her early career, her passion for retailing began in earnest in 1987 when she decided to dip her toe in the water as a business owner, taking over a failing British-themed shop at The Rocks.
“Instinctively knowing it had to be an Australian theme, I increased the takings by seven times within three months,” Mary said.
“With the ability to be creative and the help of my daughter plus a few great staff members, I traded Spring Row Gift Shop successfully in The Rocks seven days a week for 18 years.”
Mary explored some other retail ventures during this time, including a chocolate and ice cream shop, firstly at The Rocks and later in Glebe, as well as operating two gift shop/galleries with her long-term partner at the Nikko and Inter-Continental Hotels in Sydney, selling exclusively Australian products.
But Mary’s passion wasn’t just limited to helping her own businesses thrive, spending a number of years on the local Chamber of Commerce.
“While trading in The Rocks I was a member, and elected secretary of The Rocks Chamber of Commerce, becoming president in 1996 for two years,” she said.
“During my presidency I organised four business luncheons before the Sydney Olympics in four major hotels in The Rocks, introducing the Olympic Committee, Lord Mayor of Sydney also the Chairman of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.
“I arranged for The Rocks to have a large screen placed in George Street during the Olympics, which brought thousands of visitors to our businesses. This was very exciting retailing during the Olympics, with shops opening until 11pm every night.
“At the request of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority in 1999 my partner and I also set up a large gift/gallery in The Rocks for Australian artists, just for the Olympics, called ‘Australian by Design’. With a coffee shop attached it was quite a challenge!”
Mary and her partner relocated to the Hunter in 2003, building a home and five attached tourist accommodation units, which they operated for 13 years.
Despite the change in location Mary’s passion for retailing continued, running a gift gallery at Morpeth for five years with her daughter before closing it to set up the Wine Glass Gallery at the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village in 2010.
While her retailing journey has not been without its challenges, Mary said it has been a fulfilling journey that has allowed her to meet wonderful people from all over the world – including former US President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
“Over the years I have experienced unhelpful banks managers and greedy landlords with leases that were less than favourable to tenants,” she said.
“However, I remained effective, positive and have overcome all of the challenges these male executives imposed on a woman in business.
“I have achieved and succeeded where others have failed and have thoroughly enjoyed my retail journey.
“I believe the best way to succeed in retail is to be tolerant and enjoy the customers, and during my retail journey, I have met thousands of amazing, wonderful and interesting customers from all over the world.
“The biggest lesson I have learnt is one must have a passion for whatever you choose to do. Retailing is no different, with passion it is not hard to give more than you receive.”