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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

KIRKS, 150 years later


Kirkaldie and Stains, affectionately known as "Kirks," is Wellington's premier department store, where you can browse designer models of everything wearable, and buy top brand cosmetics, as well.

It's a wonderful place to browse, and while filling in time yesterday, I was delighted to find a little museum on the top floor.  It's Kirks' 150th birthday, and the display of artifacts, clippings, and archives is part of the fun.

The little museum is a delight, and a wonderful way to spend an hour.  Professionally curated and skilfully displayed, with a timeline painted around the walls, it commemorates an important part of Wellington history.

John Kirkaldie and Robert Stains

Back in 1863, two enterprising young men met in Sydney. One was John Kirkcaldie, a Scotsman who had served his apprenticeship as a draper, and the other was Robert Stains, an Englishman who had worked in the retail trade in London. They came to the settlement of Wellington, which offered the best prospects for the business they had in mind. Each had a capital of £350, which they pooled, and together they built a small store from the timbers of a wrecked ship, at the southern end of Lambton Quay.  (Today, it is the site of the historic Bank of New Zealand, now an enclosed Victorian-style mall.)  In 1868 it moved a few blocks to the south, and built in a style that is reflected in its grand form today.

During its long history Kirkcaldie & Stains has survived many upheavals, including earthquakes, fire and flood, the famous Tea Room shooting of 1898 and extensive renovations. However through all of the changes the store has continued the tradition of its founders and Kirkcaldie & Stains stands proud today as New Zealand’s premier department store. Most unusually, it is almost entirely owned by its staff and its customers, most of them Wellingtonians.

So, it is quite a heritage to celebrate, and the little museum is a great way to take note of it.


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