Busking has been banned from one of Whangārei's most popular shopping destinations after objections from a supermarket.
Whangārei flautist Darius Martin-Baker, 17, says being moved on from his regular busking spot at Okara Shopping Centre was a "jab to the heart" and brought to an end two years of playing there while saving for university.
Martin-Baker said he had turned up on a recent Saturday and started performing, not noticing the new "No busking" signs outside the Countdown supermarket.
"It was like normal, people were giving me money and then, about 25 minutes later, the security guard approached and notified me. It came as a bit of a shock. I was caught off-guard."
Martin-Baker said he contacted the Okara Shopping Centre management and was told it was out of their hands.
"It was like a jab in the heart because I've always got compliments and letters saying things like: 'I had lunch with my daughter and it was lovely to have your music in the background'."
A high school student, Martin-Baker made about $100 a week busking Saturdays and Sundays for up to eight hours which was going toward his university savings. He has
played the flute for 10 years and planned to study a double major of music and psychology.
Busking also helped pay off the $1800 purchase of his flute of which about half was still owed.
"Car parks are bland. All you hear is revving car engines and the smell of car engines and honking horns. I just feel drained listening to that. To me, music is a form of respite. It's just something that makes the world a bit brighter."
Okara Shopping Centre manager Allan Brown said he put the signs up at the request of Countdown management.
"It's a shame. I actually quite like (the buskers) and have always kept an open mind, so long as they aren't noisy and disruptive. It brought a bit of atmosphere to the place."
Brown said security guards had enforced rules for playing there, which allowed for one busker at a time and for performances to take place without amplifiers.
"Every now and then you'd get some enthusiastic people who'd bring down a couple of mates and amplifiers."
Brown said former Countdown management had been fine with buskers but a recent change in management saw a new approach. There was nowhere else suitable and safe at the shopping centre for buskers, he said.
The Northern Advocate approached the Whangārei Countdown manager who said he was advised not to speak to media. A head office Countdown spokesperson said there was no policy for busking at its stores and it was handled on a store-by-store basis.
"In this instance, given we are part of a wider mall setting and concerns have been raised about noise, we have decided to not allow any busking at our Whangārei store."
The Advocate checked with Whangārei's other major supermarkets, finding they didn't have policies on busking but also didn't encourage it.
Whangārei-raised and internationally-acclaimed soprano Sophie Sparrow helped kick-start her career by busking around Whangārei.
Now in the Royal Academy of Music Opera Programme, Sparrow (27) would busk at the Whangārei Farmers Market as a teen to help pay for her singing ventures.
"I always felt that busking gave me additional performance practice and skills for my future, such as talking to the audience, and singing and performing in different spaces," she said.
"I personally love live music and buskers around the streets. It brings a town to life, particularly in the current climate. The world needs live performance, now more than ever."
Shopper Queenie Taotahi said it was sad there would be no live music in the month before Christmas.
"I think busking's pretty fine. We need to have entertainment every now and then. They aren't harming anybody and sometimes they have some good talent too."
Shoppers Malcolm Bellette and Stan Jones had travelled from Houhora for the day but also had something to say on the matter.
"It doesn't worry me," said Bellette. "As long as they are legit. Some are beautiful and some are terrible but you can't choose your buskers, can you? If they want to give their time and make money, good on them.
"I like music and some buskers play the saxophone or the violin and some of them can really play."
Jones seconded that. "Good on them. As long as it's clean and tidy, I'm behind what Malcolm said 100 per cent."
The owner of Okara Takeaways, directly opposite the former busking site, said the music had never bothered him.
Martin-Baker was now planning on busking in the centre of town, where he needed and had obtained a permit allowing him to play only two hours each week.