Drag and drumming – A Farewell to the DIC

The music and piano department on the ground floor of D.I.C.The Christchurch branch of the Drapery Importing Company (DIC) began advertising its wares in 1885. The original building burnt down in 1908 and a new one reopened in 1909 (oh for such speed in rebuilding) and it continued operating successfully until 1978 when it merged with the next door Beaths (later Arthur Barnett.)

The DIC used to be one of the triumvirate of big department stores in Cashel Street, the others being Beaths and Ballantynes. My first memory of it as a child is of going into a gloomy high-ceilinged room that was the children’s department. It was all very Are You Being Served, except much darker. High on the shadowy walls, groovy 60s dresses in neon colours were displayed on mannequins. There was something strangely surreal about it.

In my last two years at school I got to see a different side of the building during a holiday job in the accounting department. Hidden from the public and emerging from behind the temporary divisions, I was surprised to see quite a fine building.

My farewell memory to the DIC was in an empty upstairs area of the building which was converted into a performance venue for the duration of an Arts Festival. Here the gloomy interior came into its own. It was the perfect cabaret location.

Following some rather timid local jazz musicians, Gareth Farr burst onto the stage as Lillith LeCroix in a flamboyant red dress and followed his drag act with a world class session of drumming. It was a memorable goodbye to a building which held a lot of memories.

Do you have any memories of the DIC building? Share them here.

5 thoughts on “Drag and drumming – A Farewell to the DIC

  1. Paul 12 March 2013 / 10:55 am

    What year was that Arts Festival – I am guessing after the DIC had vacated – and the Cashel Street building was becoming or had become Cashfields?

  2. Marianne 12 March 2013 / 11:06 am

    The Arts Festival was either 1995 or 1997, and it was in the space that had been used as an Applied Arts Gallery. I remember Gareth well, in his ‘Lilith’ dress there – also Mika in his heyday.
    There was an underground cafe, that was ‘the’ place to go when I was at school in the 60s – but it may have been in Beaths. I can’t remember what it was called, but it had booths as well as tables.

    • Paul 12 March 2013 / 12:05 pm

      Downstairs cafe was in Beaths. Later it became the record department shared with magazines and a lunch bar.

  3. Robyn 12 March 2013 / 11:24 am

    My memories of the DIC centre on the Tea Rooms, presided over by a woman I regarded as the epitome of glamour because she wore a gold bangle above her elbow and very dark hair in a bun. The general impression was of a retired Prima Ballerina. Tiny sandwiches, cakes and savouries came on three tiered stands. DIC was for very special occasions; Millers and Armstrong’s were more of a regular Friday afternoon thing. Ballantynes was not for the likes of us.

  4. Marion 12 March 2013 / 12:02 pm

    Loved those big old department stores. I had a holiday job in Kirkaldie and Stains in Wellington where they still had pneumatic tubes to ferry the money around, there was lots of wood panelling and beautiful wooden counters – the haberdashery area was a delight of little pull out drawers with gloves and other stuff in them. There were formal tea rooms and a lift attendant who told you what was on each floor. Shopping as an occasion.
    Thanks for revealing what DIC stands for Bernice.

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