1 June 2023

Braidwood's iconic Len Mutton and Co rings up 110 good years

| Sally Hopman
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Woman in shop

Fourth-generation family member Fiona Mutton in Braidwood’s original general store, Len Mutton and Co, which celebrates its 110th year this month. Photo: Supplied.

She may only have been young, but Fiona Mutton remembers well the impression Mick Jagger left on her family.

It was 1970 and the youngster was a member of the original Mutton family who ran the general store in Braidwood. It was big news when the Ned Kelly film crew came into town. To celebrate the event, the town hosted a morning for the then young Rolling Stone, an event attended by Fiona’s grandmother Isobel.

“Afterwards she came home,” Fiona recalls today, “and told my mother that he was a very nice young man, but that he had really big lips.”

There are not many Braidwood stories that don’t involve the Muttons.

Family members have been behind the solid cedar slab counters of Len Mutton and Co, in the main street of Braidwood, for almost as long as there has been a Braidwood – and this month, they celebrated their 110th year of operation – right down to the fourth generation of them.

Current owner Fiona Mutton reckons she can’t imagine doing anything else. She follows in the proud tradition of original owner, her great-grandfather, Edward (Teddy) Norman Mutton, her grandfather Leonard (Len) Norman Mutton and her parents Brian and Ann Marie Mutton.

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She started working in the shop when she could barely see over the counter and when you could still buy biscuits from tins, milk in bottles and when you had to climb a ladder to reach stockings and gloves.

“Back in those days, it was all about customer service,” Fiona says. “That’s what my great-grandfather, who started the business, instilled in everyone.”

In was a typical country store in its heyday. Food was on one side of the shop – most everything else on the other. The original wooden floors are still there today along with the corrugated iron roof and the counters – single slabs of the finest wood which, along with many of the shop’s other original fittings, could have been sold a thousand times over to people coming into the store.

“I’ve got a lot of people on the list who want the fixtures after I die,” Fiona jokes.

According to Fiona, the counters needed to be huge – with sometimes up to 10 staff members behind them at one time. There were three of them – one for food, one for menswear and another for ladieswear – and haberdashery.

Two-storey shop

The original Len Mutton and Co of Braidwood in the town’s main street celebrates its 110th birthday this month. Photo: Supplied.

The original boot room remains, where locals were fitted for their footwear, although Fiona says it was also used as the office.

“I remember the money was sent in this wooden ball along a wire to the boot room where the cashier would work out the change.”

The cashier did all the accounts by hand and typewriter – and even today, you won’t find a computer within cooee of the shop.

Fiona says her grandmother Isobel insisted that when the bell on the shop door rang, she’d tell “the girls” to step forward from behind the counter to welcome the customer and ask how they could help.

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Service was a big part of the business then as it is now, perhaps contributing to why the store has stayed open all these years – service to both customers and staff.

Even when COVID-19 hit, Fiona, knowing that many of her staff still had bills to pay during the shutdown, organised to repaint the shop – a job that took them through the lockdown and paid their wages.

“My grandfather always used to tell us that you were only ever as good as your staff.”

Fiona was close to her grandfather Len, remembering him as a “real gentleman”, a “kind man who never let any child go to school without shoes, who always let families have time to pay things off”.

“He always liked to stock quality, which I think has kept us in good stead. He always used to say that the quality of something would be remembered long after the price was forgotten.

Man in black and white photo

The original and one of the best, the always dapper Len Mutton. Photo: Supplied.

“Maybe that’s why we have lasted so long. We have so many loyal customers from the old days, as well as today.”

Fiona spent much of her adult life working in Sydney in, naturally enough, the retail sector. She returned to Braidwood to take charge of Muttons after her father died in 1999 and as some of the long-serving staff wanted to retire.

“My siblings and I inherited the place but I was the only one with retail experience, so I thought I’d give it a few months – 25 years later I’m still here – and still love it.”

But she knows it won’t last forever. Her three children, she says, have focused on different careers and “have their own lives to live”.

“If this place ends with me, it’s been a great innings.”

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