OPINION: Senior Wellington journalist Georgina Campbell's fortnightly column looks closely at issues in the capital.
Chain stores are not killing the character of Wellington's Cuba St. In fact they have been there as far back as 1890 and arguably will be critical to its future.
The region's economic development agency, Wellington NZ, describes Cuba St as one of the city's best-loved and best-known streets, where everyone is welcome and feels at home.
At the weekend, the CubaDupa festival filled the street to celebrate the vibrancy and unique spirit of Wellington.
But fears of gentrification are lurking on the doorsteps of many retailers.
In 2019 Urbis magazine published an article saying Cuba St "teeters on the edge" of losing its legacy as big multinational brands move in.
Last year Radio New Zealand's The Panel discussed "fears that Cuba St is losing its boutique edge".
This month a The Spinoff article said Cuba Mall used to be the nexus for Wellington's alternative scene but now consisted of retail stores like Cotton On, Hallensteins and Vodafone because they're the only operators that can afford to rent there.
People say Cuba St now morphs into its true self the further you walk up it.
For some, it was never the same since party spot Mighty Mighty closed in 2014.
The collective tone from these articles and conversations is that the soul of Cuba St is quietly slipping away. A victim of chain stores.
Actually, chain stores have always featured on Cuba St.
The old three-storey Farmers Department Store building, for example, was built for Christopher Smith to run his draper's business from in about 1890.
He went on to own a chain of draper's shops with branches in Greymouth, Westport, Denniston, Nelson, Masterton, and Reefton.
The building was then sold to the Farmers Trading Company in 1957.
By 1970 Farmers was the largest department store chain in New Zealand and hardly an eccentric addition to Cuba St.
It's the building that now houses the likes of Glassons.
Stores like Glassons could be described as anchor tenants, meaning they have broad appeal and attract more members of the public to the area, in turn benefiting smaller retail operators.
In the floors above, Greater Wellington Regional Council has moved in.
That's a good thing because these local government workers, with job security, create a significant boost to surrounding hospitality establishments.
But this building is an example of more than just chain stores having always been a feature of Cuba St.
It's also a building that has been earthquake-strengthened, after languishing at just 5 per cent of the New Building Standard (NBS).
About 30 buildings on Cuba St are earthquake-prone, meaning they have an NBS rating of less than 34 per cent.
One of them has an NBS rating of just 1 per cent.
Willis Bond spent $60 million redeveloping the old Farmers building and the two neighbouring ones into 7000 square metres of refurbished character office and retail space.
This is where the likes of Cotton On and Vodafone are.
Earthquake-prone heritage buildings like these are not saved with the kindness of people's hearts.
They're saved with tens of millions of dollars.
I don't have a problem with those retailers securing spots on Cuba St if that's what's required to save the buildings.
I also acknowledge this development hasn't come without casualties.
The Matterhorn bar was a Wellington institution and after the Kaikoura Earthquake had to close, after 54 years on Cuba St, to make way for the old Farmers building strengthening.
But the alternative is letting earthquake-prone building notices expire, at which point nobody would be allowed to use the buildings.
Just around the corner on Ghuznee St the Toomath's building sits empty, also heritage, with an earthquake-strengthening deadline that expired in 2013.
Not all earthquake-strengthening projects are massive redevelopments.
Flesh Wound piercing studio has operated from its site on Cuba St for more than 25 years and is temporarily moving, along with the Hair Chair Salon, to allow for seismic work.
Both will be back when the work is done.
Cuba St needs the independent retailers, the quirky op shops, and the snug little restaurants, but chain stores have a role to play there too.
Just as they always have.