It will be no more. Mosaic, the gallery store of colour in our main street beautifully arrayed with paintings, large and small, sculptures, jewellery, photography, candles, accessories, all made in New Zealand, is closing. Morag Yates, proprietor for almost 19 years, has sold her business.
This story of success, with Morag at the Mosaic helm, will end in the next two weeks.
The Informer waited in line to speak to Morag, as there were customers everywhere, taking advantage of the 30 and 40 percent discounts (10 percent for commissioned works). They were buying beautiful bargains for Christmas gifts and art and décor for their homes and friends.
At the same time, each customer spoke to Morag of their regret that Mosaic was closing and thanking Morag for such stirling customer service and care over the years. “Glorious is the word I often use about Morag,” piped up one of the customers carrying an armful of candles.
“it’s the right time for me; time for a change, says Morag. “The offer made to me was a good one, though a surprise. I was not expecting this momentous decision. But it feels right and I can see, as a grandmother, it’s time to spend time with my grandchildren, and time for a change and a break.”
Morag reflects on when she first purchased Mosaic. “I trained as a psychiatric nurse and I was working in Thames at the time. My husband could no longer work on the farm and so we thought, what about Whitianga? We moved here in 1999. I bought this shop in 2004.”
We asked Morag what led her to buying the shop? “It was another period of thinking that I needed a change. Having been self-employed with the café for five years, the opportunity felt right, a welcome change. I would be working with beautiful things and good people.”
The art shop had been doing business since 1974 and was known as Zoe’s. Art had always ben a part of Morag’s life, and her family’s life and she purchased the shop with her friend, Lynn Lambrinodakis. “We called it Mosaic because a compilation of New Zealand art was coming together to form a story. With that name, we had a lot of mosaic artists come to us with their creations but that eventually levelled out.”
Lynn and Morag worked together for a few years until Lynn went to Hamilton with her husband and Morag carried on. “The biggest change we made was to weed out the ‘New Zealand-made in China’ products,” says Morag. “They were New Zealand themed, but not made here. I was committed to encouraging , showing and selling art that was made locally. That became our rule. As I say this, I can see some scarves displayed in Mosaic not made in New Zealand, but they are made of New Zealand wool, just woven elsewhere. That is an exception,” Morag says.
“We wondered how this stance would go commercially but locals reached out to me. They just walked through the door. We started off with the local staple of artists who were already here, but many passed away. Gradually, over the years, more and more artists came through the door or customers would say, “I have a sister who paints, or I have a neighbour who makes…” Morag chuckles,” Not all of these worked out. Indeed, we had some very unusual, unsalable pieces brought in, but I always took everyone’s art seriously.”
A customer came and joined the interview saying, “This place has got such a lovely vibe. It’s made up of the works of those who are in their happy place when they create their art. This is often the first shop people visit.”
A staff member added, “One of the best things about working with Morag is that she has taught me to love real life and that applies when you are dealing with loss of children, loved ones, partners, miscarriages. Over the years, we have seen many who have experienced very hard times in their lives. She has always been extremely generous to her customers and staff.”
Morag adds, “I have had a remarkable group of women who have worked here. We have seen a lot of sadness walk through the door. We delivered kindness.”
When asked about what she has learned and what advice she might pass on, Morag had some important tips.
“In the first couple of years, it was exciting. It was scary. Retail was very different to being a nurse or running a café. We did not know what we were doing. But gradually, we got into the flow of it. We gained confidence. At first we tried to make everyone happy and cater for all their suggestions. In the end, we decided we had learned enough to know what to buy and just go and do it.
People come in for something and we don’t have it, but they leave with something else. Then I would research what they were looking for and find a place for it. That sometimes set us off in a different direction which can lead to improvement. I wanted every customer to feel there was a flow.
I have learned that you can have any background; you don’t have to have the knowledge in retail to do this. As long as you are open to learn as you go and study the mistakes you have made and learn from them, you really can find your happy place when you are working.
§ I believe life is about colour, I can’t do beige. I love colour and flow. I still don’t think I have the flow just right. It’s always evolving.”
Morag Yates is staying on in Whitianga. She is going to spend some of the summer with her daughter.
“It’s been a journey I have owned. Every journey has a beginning and an end. This space will be hard to replace, but not the quantity and quality of artists and their workers. They are still here and they will find a way. I will miss the people. This has been my happy place.
Thank you Whitianga, it’s been a blast and I look forward to seeing people when I am not Morag in Mosaic. I am still Morag and we are here, but there will be no Mosaic. “