Wellington's Kirkcaldie and Stains, which established in 1863 and closed in 2016, once had a branch in Napier. The store had purchased the drapery business of Neal and Close in 1897 on the corner of Hastings St and Emerson St on the Marine Parade side.
The store was sold in 1917 due to difficult war-time trading, and this business would become DSL (Drapery Supply Limited). When the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake struck, the building was completely wrecked, and DSL ceased business afterwards.
The Bank of New Zealand purchased the DSL site and built in 1932. Its original building was in Hastings St, in front of the St John's Cathedral (where the fountain area is now), but was wrecked during the 1931 earthquake, and they favoured moving closer to the other banks nearby. In 1990, the BNZ vacated the building and moved nearby in Hastings Street.
ASB bank, when it established in Napier, moved in and restored the former BNZ premises, with its decorative Maori motifs.
Hastings St was originally Napier's prominent retail and business street. It was named for Warren Hastings (1732-1818), the first British governor-general of India.
Napier's Hastings St was named before the nearby city of Hastings – also named for Warren Hastings - was established in 1873.
When Hastings St began to fill up with shops and businesses, Emerson St in the 1880s became a popular place to establish for retailers.
The retailers in Hastings St were not happy about the competitive development in Emerson St so a "Hastings Street clique" on the Napier Borough Council formed amongst the businessmen. This meant items such as roading and street lighting were apparently favoured for Hastings St.
A retail assistant in the 1890s was normally required to work 48 hours per week, but no work was to be had on Sunday.
When a Napier café owner in October 1909, who had leased part of Marine Parade municipal baths, wanted to open on Sunday, Truth magazine gave its thoughts as follows:
"If the selling of cups of tea were permitted to bathers at the municipal baths on Sunday, you can easily perceive the dreadful consequences that would speedily ensue. Tea shops would be opened all over the place, and would flourish like the green bay tree. Pubs would throw open their doors, and the foaming pewter would give the fragrant cup a stiff run for public patronage. Theatres and cafes would be going at full blast in every street. Races and bowling matches would deplete the churches. The church collection plate would pass round full of emptiness."
A Napier half-holiday association was formed during 1890 by shop assistants with the objective to make Wednesday afternoon their half holiday, which they achieved. They even enlisted the cathedral dean to help them. Originally, it was the Napier Borough Council who decided when the half-holiday would be.
On the Wednesday half holiday, it was common for the retail assistants to play sport. This was encouraged by the larger firms, such as Blythes, who wanted healthy employees, and they often sponsored company uniforms.
Napier retail assistants became trail blazers in December 1931 when many male employees decided to abandon suit jackets, waistcoats and braces during shopping hours as Napier was too hot during summer. Their uniform would consist of silk white shirts with trousers supported by a belt. Exposed braces were socially incorrect.
By the 1960s Napier had also become trail blazers in another fashion statement – walk shorts – that is shorts with long socks pulled up to the knee.
Such was the success of the fashion movement amongst men in Napier, for a period in the 1960s to the 1980s Napier was referred to as "The walk shorts capital of New Zealand".
Michael Fowler is doing a fundraising talk based on his favourite Hawke's Bay Today Historic Hawke's Bay articles and donating all proceeds to the Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank. This takes place at 6pm on Thursday, March 21, at the Havelock North Function Centre. Tickets are $10 and to book please email Linda at email@example.com or phone 8335 333. No door sales.
Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell St South, Hastings for $65.00 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Fowler FCA (email@example.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.