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

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shop talk

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Retail continues to thrive in Wellington, and thanks to a few recent and upcoming openings there are now virtually no vacancies on the Golden Mile or Featherston St, with a few exceptions at the northern end. Here's a quick roundup of some of the changes, workingly roughly from south to north.

Inside Butlers Chocolate Cafe, WellingtonLast weekend, Butlers Chocolate Cafe opened in the long-empty building that once hosted Kopi. It's something quite new for Wellington, but even if you've never seen one of the other stores in the chain, it has a definite franchise feel about it. All that shiny brass, buttery faux-classical woodwork and bright lighting works against any intimacy that the tiny space might have generated. The plasma screen with slow-motion loops of their products and branding completes the shopping mall ambience. Nevertheless, their chocolates do taste good, and while I wouldn't rave about the coffee, their range of hot chocolates sound like they'll be very tempting when the temperatures start to fall.

A little further up Willis St, the corner of Mercer St will soon be getting an Adidas store. According to an article in yesterday's Dominion Post, this will not be a "sports performance outlet" like the one in Auckland, but "a heritage outlet - concentrating on fashion, rediscovering the products of the 1970s and 80s and tweaking them for the 21st century". In other words, more Run DMC than actual running.

Bucks of Wellington, Lambton QuayThe space in the Old Bank Arcade vacated by Vodafone when they moved to their sleek new store across the road has recently re-opened as Bucks of Wellington. Some of the iconography (deer heads and model ships) hints at Rodd & Gunn outdoorsy masculinity, but that's clearly an ironic pose since the stock is much more about men's designer streetwear in a vaguely Area 51 or Good as Gold sense. Perfect for any Lambton Quay workers who might think that what this end of town has been missing is an opportunity to spend $125 on a Space Invaders T-shirt.

Site of new Untouched World store in WellingtonJust off the Golden Mile, that strange little building on the corner of Featherston and Brandon Streets will soon be opening as the Wellington branch of Christchurch-based merino clothing empire Untouched World. While it may not include a Pacific Rim restaurant like its flagship store, they have a reputation for innovative design and a wide-ranging approach to retail (how many clothing manufacturers have an artist in residence?), so it could be a space to watch.

A little further away, S.O.S. has opened near Latitude 41 on Queens Wharf. It's a bit hard to categorise (mostly takeaway sandwiches and drinks, but with hints of dairy or newsagent), but it's good to see one of the spaces that had become ground floor offices being returned to retail use. The old Queens Wharf retail centre was an unmitigated disaster, of course, but that's hardly suprising when the planned 31-storey office tower and apartments next door never materialised. With the Meridian building now only months away, the associated boost in daytime population should make retail even more viable in the Queens Wharf and Kumutoto areas.

Back on Lambton Quay, the big change is the imminent opening of Borders, which some people have been hanging out for for a while. The shelves have been installed, and just looking from the other side of the street at the enormous first floor area gives a good idea of how vast this shop will be.

The former Askew site on Midland Park is also set to reopen, this time as the second branch of t leaf T . There's no word yet on whether it will be strictly retail like the Dukes Arcade shop, or whether they'll also be serving tea to sit-down customers. From the sounds of things, the lack of proper tea service in Wellington caf├ęs (the Chaps would not be impressed) means that there's a gap in the market for a specialist tea shop.

Kinetic Design, Bowen St WellingtonThe retail market changes quite markedly once you get north of here. South of Stout St, it looks like there's only a single street-level space for lease (the Mainly Tramping shop in Manners St) on the entire Golden Mile. Between here and the Beehive there are several large vacant spaces, though only one seems to be visibly for lease: the former home of Lambton Magazines, which closed quite suddenly late last year. There's been a lot of shuffling around here, with shops sometimes moving just a few metres along the street. One of these was Quay Computers, whose former premises around the corner in Bowen St have just been taken over by Kinetic Design, a retailer that seems to specialise in knockoffs of pieces inspired by classic modernist furniture. Barcelona chairs for about $1500? Shhh, no-one tell Peter Bromhead!


At 5:19 pm, February 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The old Queens Wharf retail centre was an unmitigated disaster, of course, but that's hardly suprising when the planned 31-storey office tower and apartments next door never materialised."

I'd say that was the Lambton Tower proposal from the late '80s, which never even lifted-off.

At 9:26 am, February 22, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

DeepRed: Yes, that's the one (as listed on Emporis). It looks very 80s, and would have been a bit cringeworthy, but it certainly would have housed enough workers in the area to support the retail centre.

Sosu: I haven't tried Butlers hot choc yet, but I also seriously doubt that it's a match for Schoc. Plus, their range of chocolates (shipped over from Europe in temperature-controlled containers) may be pleasant enough, but it doesn't match Schoc's mind-blowing flavours.

At 1:43 pm, February 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wnen mentioning to people that Butlers is just a foreign franchise I have had the comment "But it's Irish".

So it seems chains are less bad if they come from somewhere non US.

At 5:15 pm, February 22, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Rather than not being from the US, the thing that make it a little better is that it's not yet ubiquitous. There are a few shops in Dublin ... and one here. So, it's not quite like Starbucks, Wal-mart or McDonalds where you see exactly the same stuff everywhere in the world.

Having said that, the fact that not just the product but the interiors have all been shipped in from Europe is a bit offputting. And there's nothing "Irish" about the look & feel of the place: it could be English or American or European or Australian.

I hear that Ka Pai are planning to open some more shops soon: that's one place I wouldn't mind seeing become a successful chain.

At 2:19 pm, March 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The shelves in Borders are filling as we speak, and according to the A4 photocopied sheet stuck on the wall, it will open March 15th at 8am, So 1 week to go.....

At 2:43 pm, March 07, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Aha! I'd seen the shelves filling too, and thought the opening couldn't be too far away. Good to get a definite date. Not so good to see that their in-house cafe will be a Gloria Jean's.


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