Lately, I have found it quite disheartening walking through town past multiple empty shops. This has always been a pattern, reflecting changing fortunes and enterprises, but nowadays exasperated by opportunities available through online shopping.
One of the most striking gaps is at Mallets, on the corner of Cameron and Bank Sts. Central in Whangārei's business and shopping area, this corner has an interesting history which can be traced through historic photographs in Whangārei Museum's Collection.
Likely due to the advantageous position and abundant shop frontage and window space, this corner has housed many drapers and clothing merchants. In the 1890s, a smaller timber building housed JW McGregor - draper, clothier and milliner.
This was replaced by the large stone building named Cafler's Building in 1912, which has been home to several clothing and fabric shops including Walkers and JJ Stubbs.
On October 1 1919, Alice and Frank Crosby took over Mr Jas Baird's tailor shop (who had taken over from BH McCready) on Bank St and started Crosby's Fashions.
Alice was a local from Parua Bay and Frank had come from Auckland, where he had worked in a fabrics factory. During their time in Whangārei they lived in a villa on Mill Rd with their five daughters.
Both Frank and Alice were designers and dressmakers, so they set the shop up first as blouse specialists who also offered fashionable decorative hemstitching for blouses. Upon opening, Frank straight away advertised for machinists and shop girls in the Northern Advocate.
The next year Crosby's was offering full dressmaking services, specialising in evening gowns, as well as offering a range of ready-made clothing and hats. I wonder how many people still have a vintage Crosby's hat or frock at home.
From the beginning Crosby's was adept at drawing in customers with regular sales and advertising like "Ladies be wise! Keep the cost of living down at Crosby's", even occasional free gifts with purchases.
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Alongside their made to order and in-house designed fashions, Frank Crosby made large wholesale purchases, especially of millinery items, which they could then sell at lower prices.
Their Whangārei shop offered fashions and fabrics from Auckland. Their 1920s Spring Show advertised the latest dainty lingerie, crepe de chine blouses, taffeta silk skirts and children's frocks.
For the event, two of their daughters, Helena and Zelda, dressed up in silk gowns made by Frank and advertised the show. His daughters later worked for the Crosby family business in Auckland, modelling, cutting and in administration.
It is difficult to fully track Crosby's Fashions' movements between different buildings in town but it is evident that the business was housed in a couple of different showrooms between Bank and Cameron Sts, which were remodelled at various times.
Sometime in the 1920s Crosby's had separate showrooms for their millinery and clothing ranges. In the 1930s, Crosby's Fashions were definitely housed on the corner of Bank and Cameron Streets, giving it the name Crosby's corner, although also called The Cash Draperies Store in 1931.
In 1933, Crosby's Ltd struck some trouble and was liquidated and bought by Orr's Drapery Ltd. which had operated further down Cameron St. However, Crosby's reopened in full strength the following year.
Several photos in Whangārei Museum's Collection how Crosby's in pride of place on the corner. The fashions of people walking in the street are 1930s styles and bound to be similar to what was being sold at Crosby's at the time.
The family moved to Auckland in 1937 and opened Reslau Frocks, which became a successful fashion brand sold throughout New Zealand. "Crosby's Building" remains on the front exterior wall of today's Hunting and Fishing store on Rust Ave.
It is a fascinating journey to trace the history of our businesses through historic photographs and I wonder what our history will look like in the next 100 years.
• Georgia Kerby is exhibitions curator, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.