A Northland store which has become a local institution after 103 years in the same spot is gearing up for its first summer in new premises.

In November Opua General Store shifted from a historic building next to the ferry ramp to a new building at the head of the wharf, a distance of less than 100m.

Owners Greg Philpott and Margaret Hughes said they agonised over the decision but had been struggling to secure a commercial lease and to operate a modern business in a historic building — so they were delighted when they had a chance to move into what used to be the Burnsco marine supplies store.

The building which used to house Opua General Store is awaiting new tenants. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
The building which used to house Opua General Store is awaiting new tenants. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Mr Philpott said the new store's total floor area was not much bigger than the old premises but it was more open and had more usable space.

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The move meant they could keep serving ferry passengers while offering a wider range of services. They had already added bike hire and expanded their hot food offerings, with more to come.

''As the only service centre in town we try to cover as many customer needs as we can,'' he said.

The extra space around the store meant they could also create a gathering place for Opua visitors and residents.

They had so far put in two picnic tables and were planning three more, as well as cafe-style tables in front of the store. If kids wanted to sit down to eat their icecreams at the old shop the only place was a bench by the road.

Moving into a new building also allowed the installation of energy-efficient equipment and lighting, cutting power bills by more than a third.

The store's new home, the Opua Wharf Maritime Building, was built in 2010. The previous ground-floor tenant, Burnsco, has moved to larger premises closer to the expanded marina.

Mr Philpott said their new landlord, council-owned company Far North Holdings, had been ''fantastic'', giving them a long-term lease and the confidence they needed to invest in adapting the new premises.

The store's move was just one of many new developments in Opua, where there was a real buzz about town as new businesses moved in and existing ones took on more staff.

''Opua is a real success story. We should be beating our drums about what's happening.''

Opua Store as photographed about 1915 by Frederick Radcliffe. PHOTO / ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY
Opua Store as photographed about 1915 by Frederick Radcliffe. PHOTO / ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

According to a Northland Regional Council report, the building housing the original store may have been built in the late 1800s by Portuguese-born Antonio Morris as Allen's Bakery, on the other side of Beechy Rd, then moved to its present site above the water by his son John Morris in 1914.

That theory has, however, been dismissed by local historian Myra Larcombe, who said the store was built from scratch by the Deemings of Okiato for John Morris in 1914.

The store is listed by Heritage New Zealand as a Category 2 Historic Place.

Plans for the currently vacant building are thought to include office space and a fish and chip shop.