Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shops we love: 10 Haining St

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A new shop has just opened in what was once Wellington's Chinatown, selling art, t-shirts and a range of well-designed little knick-knacks. It goes by the self-explanatory (if unoriginal) name of 10 Haining St, and it's taken over an old substation building, which is now enlivened by some stained glass windows and colourful flags.

"Ah," I can hear some of you saying, "the tide of gentrification moves ever onward. What was once a gritty light-industrial part of Te Aro is being taken over by chi-chi designer boutiques, lining the pockets of corporate retail chains or providing an excuse for bored suburban matrons to indulge their 'creative' pretensions."

In some cases this might be true, but in this case the truth is very different. 10 Haining Street is actually run by Art Compass, a charitable trust set up to provide studio and gallery space for artists with intellectual disabilities. The building itself is owned by the Sisters of Compassion, who also own the semi-derelict building between this one and the Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre on the corner of Tory St. The substation was going to be empty for some time, but they decided that it would make a perfect retail outlet for the work of their artists and others.

And it is a lovely little space. On a grotty day it felt full of light, and it's a strange feeling to step through the low and narrow door from a drab street into a room full of intriguing and unusual things. Most of their products are unavailable anywhere else, surprisingly reasonably priced (I bought a t-shirt for $30), and go beyond the clich├ęs of "outsider art".

I had thought that this part of town would take a while before it attracted small retail shops to join the big boxes, building supplies wholesalers and film production companies. There are a lot of apartments going up in the neighbourhood, but until recently there was very little in the way of retail and hospitality business to bring active edges to the streets. The arrival of this place, together with the fact that it's something different from all the other shops in town, is a very welcome sign.

Update: unfortunately, it didn't last long, closing on the 18th of March 2006.


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