For many Whataupoko dwellers, Ballance Street Village lingerers, and lovers of fine secondhand goods alike, this view of Ro Darrall and Doris in graceful repose out on the porch, will be a familiar sight. Waving out to passersby, receiving visitors and customers, taking in the gentle bustle of the Ballance Street Village on a good day.. Ro Darrall’s porch provides the shop frontage to her beloved shop Retro, a veritable treasure trove of retro and vintage goods from household objects to furniture, jewellery and clothing. The roots of Ro’s shop might be traced back to Ro’s childhood in Morrinsville and the many hours whiled away waiting and looking around the local Auction House as her mother, an avid collector of antiques, scoured the sprawling premises for elegant pieces to grace their home. When Ro left school and headed to Auckland, it was probably her grandmother’s influence that saw her entering the fashion business. Her grandmother liked to attend fashion shows, bought a new wardrobe for every season and put on a fresh outfit at 5pm each day, ready to face the evening ahead in style. Ro did her training in the Fashion Department at Milne and Choice, did a bit of modelling, was a Mary Quant cosmetic consultant for a while, and began collecting herself, “The op shops were fantastic back then.” Even then Ro would mostly go for objects from the 1940’s and 50’s eras because of “the design and the way things were made, they were made to last”. After a while Ro set off travelling, off to experience the ‘Shipboard Life’ for a while. The ship Ro boarded ended up in Italy, which was where Ro got off. Some few years later later, she came to Gisborne to hang out at the beach for a summer, and “that was it really.” During the 80’s and 90’s photography and music provided a colourful backdrop to Ro’s new life in Gisborne. For these she had her father to thank. Her dad had loved to make movies during her own childhood, and had bought Ro her first Box Brownie as a child. He had a couple of speakers permanently set up in the cowshed, presumably to woo the cows with Dean Martin and the likes, and was “always buying new 45s”. So in amongst raising two beautiful children Ro also used to DJ at the Gladstone Road bar No9, “up in the rafters” and brought in House DJ’s from the cities during the late 80s and, as I’m sure anyone who was there at the time will also attest, “the place went off”. Ro was also doing family portraiture, wedding and commercial photography and has also put together her fair share of shows on Radio 2ZG, The Switch and Tūranga FM over the years, sticking with her two favourite genres House and Jazz. It was after returning to Europe to watch her daughter Darnelle race at the World Rowing Championships in Eton, that Ro began collecting again in earnest with the idea of opening up a shop; a shop as it turned out, called Retro. Ro loves all the people she gets to meet and the stories she gets told about the treasures that end up in Retro - stories she then gets to pass on to the people who buy them. There’s a bit of sadness too though, which is the nature of the job when all of the items in her shop come from people cleaning out their parent’s homes or people who are down-sizing from the family home to a unit or residential care. More often than not, that passing of items from one set of hands to another represents the end of an era. To off-set that sadness though, Ro has plenty of local regulars as well as people visiting her shop from all over the country. Since Covid she says “it’s just like Christmas, it’s been so busy”. Busy with lots of people who just love this place, this place that Ro so clearly adores too.
Story and Photo by Sarah Cleave