During the summer, Hawke's Bay Today reporters wrote about "Our Place" - locations interesting or dear to them. This winter, Napier resident Andrew Frame felt the 'old, familiar, ice-laden wind that howls up Napier's main shopping street'. and was moved to write about "My Place".

Not all streets are created equal. Some are long. Some are short. Some lead you right back to where you started and some just stop (hopefully before the edge of the cliff).

It's not as busy as Queen St, as expensive as Madison Ave, or as cosmetically altered as Rodeo Drive. It has better acting than Shortland St and it doesn't require subtitles to understand the scandal of Coronation Street (the one in Manchester, that is, not Ahuriri). My favorite street, "My Place" starts with "E" and ends with "merson St".

Whenever I am feeling unhappy or off-centre, a circuit of Emerson St always cheers me up. My week is seldom complete without a visit - I need my fix!


From magnificent views of a sparkling Hawke Bay and majestic Cape Kidnappers mere seconds away at the Soundshell and Veronica Sunbay, to the travelling feast of the Saturday farmers' market in Clive Square and all the shops, cafés and businesses between, there is little Emerson St does not offer.

I have lived in Napier all my 33 years and Emerson St has always been the hub of the city. Somewhere that has inspired pride, art, profit and occasionally awe. I have had many great times and have met and made longtime friends on Emerson. I even met my wife there!

In the 80s, Emerson St was a magical place for the senses of a growing child. Long before the hiss and splutter of espresso machines became the soundtrack to a central city lunchtime, it was the whirr of milkshake makers and the scent of vanilla competing with the steam of tea brewing and the smell of ham sandwiches for shoppers' attention.

There was no paved pedestrian precinct in those days; cars drove freely up and down the street. No Art Deco tourists wandered around gazing facade-ward either - the decorative fascias having been boarded up decades earlier. Instead, tourists flocked to Marineland, Bumper Boats, Can-am Cars and Pedal-boat Lake on Marine Parade - now all gone.

With no seven-day trading, late-night shopping on Fridays was a treat and a special experience.

Napier's CBD bustled with shoppers attracted to the lights, activity and service in shops radiating warmth, while arches covered in multicoloured lights criss-crossed Emerson St at its corners with Hastings and Dalton Sts giving even freezing, wet winter nights a festive glow.

The arches and late-night shopping have also long since gone, their passing leaving Emerson St evenings sadly dark and quiet, even throughout Hawke's Bay's long summer twilights. But some things don't change. The wind I mentioned at the start of my story is still there, as are the gloriously hot, sunny, summer shopping days, when store and café preferences are rated on how good their air conditioning units are.

The central city's mid-winter chill, when the sun just can't seem to break through the clouds or budge from the shadow of Napier Hill and the coldness seeps behind your glasses and chills your eyes.


But no matter how cold the weather gets at this time of year, there is always something in Emerson St to warm you up. Whether it is coffee, food, a bargain, a chat or just a smile and a welcome - and that's something so many Emerson St retailers do very well.

I've always thought too much focus is placed on our central city's architecture, when the moral we are all taught as children (or image-conscious teenagers) is far more relevant: "It's what's inside (the building) that counts."

Napier's retail staff may not get a lot of the credit they deserve, but they are the first points of contact for customers and visitors.

Tourists may come once to look at the buildings, but they will return time and again because of the personal welcome and service they receive. I'm biased - I used to be one of them.

I had never expected to work in Napier's CBD. Getting a job working at Dymocks Booksellers (At the time it was in lower Emerson St where State Insurance is now) was a great break. It may sound a bit simple, but for me this was the "big time".

One morning while setting up the store I paused, looked up and down the street and thought, "I'm working in Emerson St. How cool is that?"

I loved the books, the customers and the staff were fantastic. One day the lovely lady who would become my wife came in looking for a book and, after a little time and further "browsing", left with the shop assistant! It's been a few years since I last worked in town and part of me still misses it dearly. Is it an addiction? I don't know.

The central city's shell does have advantages, though. It has often been claimed, "Napier needs a mall!" No. It doesn't. No mall could have Emerson St's personality. Just as no online shopping website could ever have its interactivity.

The area Napier's CBD covers would match, if not better, the floor space of any Westfield or other giant, cement block-inspired centre in the country. It also has the added benefits of free lighting and air conditioning, courtesy of Mother Nature, and doesn't look like a Boeing repair hangar from the air.

On the down-side, overinflated leases and a downturn in customers' spending have seen too many unique, independent, long-serving Napier retailers close down and their premises become gapingly empty like Mid City Plaza, or be quickly taken over by yet another faceless international chain giving Emerson St a lot of the same generic stores as the monolithic malls we would like to avoid.

In the struggle for the tourist and consumer dollar, the search for identity and that "point of difference" against large corporations, redevelopments and massive malls, PR-hungry promoters, marketers and "bright ideas" people have come and gone from the city. Too often, the plans and brands they bring peter out, leave nothing improved, or worse, in a poorer state than when they arrived.

Ultimately, Emerson St has outlasted them all to become its own self-reliant "brand". The retailers, businesses and public help to create the environment they enjoy.

People know that if you want to meet friends, get a great coffee, or revitalise your wardrobe you can do it in Emerson St.

So long as we give our best to it, the street will return the favour.