At first, shopping in country towns was dominated by general stores, which offered goods on credit to local farmers. Travel was difficult, so rural people needed to buy their goods locally. Stock and station agents expanded their ranges and many goods were offered through mail-order catalogues. Department stores such as the Farmers’ Trading Company seized this opportunity by also selling goods through mail order (the postal system was very efficient).
It’s all Greek
From the early 1900s many of Wellington’s small shops were owned by Greek families. These businesses reached their peak in the late 1950s when there were some 70 Greek-owned shops in downtown Wellington.
After the First World War, as city suburbs grew and public transport improved, suburban shopping developed. These village-type rows of shops centred on a main road, usually along a bus or tram route. There was typically a grocer, butcher, greengrocer, pharmacy, hairdresser, baker, stationer/newsagent and post office. Larger rows might also include a real estate agent, draper, jeweller, confectioner, hardware store, service station, and one or more banks. In Auckland, suburbs such as Mt Eden, Mt Roskill, Point Chevalier and Mt Albert were typical examples.
The city centre was the place to go for more variety – it had specialised small shops and large emporiums, chain stores and department stores.
Cars and shopping malls
From the 1960s, car ownership grew steeply. Cities spread as suburbs grew outwards. From the late 1960s shopping malls were built, especially in the more spread-out cities – Auckland and Christchurch – to serve customers who went shopping by car. Central Wellington and Dunedin were more compact, and did not see the same rise in large malls in outlying suburbs.
Increasingly people drove to do their shopping. Malls offered ample free parking and often had an adjacent supermarket. They drew customers away from city centres.
Effects of malls
Malls reduced the need for a trip to the city centre. Small general shops and department stores suffered the most. Some chain stores opened new shops in malls, and some small specialty stores survived by selling luxury fashion items. Department stores and chain stores were often locked into contracts with suppliers and expensive inner-city leases. In Auckland the glamour shopping destinations of Queen Street and Karangahape Road suffered, as did shops in Christchurch’s city centre.
Many big department stores and small shops closed in the 1980s. City centres still retained their shopping areas – although they were often less busy. Customers changed from incoming suburban shoppers to office workers and tourists. To lure the suburban shopper a city-centre store needed a point of difference, such as niche products, or extra services like repairs. Small shops could also be nimble and change their stock quickly to capitalise on changing fashions – one advantage over chain and department stores.