Ballantynes – a symbol of Canterbury resilience

photo of Dunstable House

Today marks the 65th anniversary of New Zealand’s most deadly fire.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 18 November, 1947, Ballantynes Department Store was full of shoppers enjoying one of the busiest retail days of the year. Show Week had taken place the week before and the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten was two days away. The city was buzzing. Then, at 3:31pm, disaster struck.

One of the store’s salesmen was told by a woman employee that smoke was coming up from the basement. He told her to call the fire brigade and inform the owners. When he didn’t hear sirens, the salesman became concerned and worked with other staff members to place fire extinguishers at the bottom of the stairs. The owners, Kenneth and Roger Ballantyne, were informed and made a call to the fire service at 3:46pm. It’s unclear whether an earlier call was made.

Most of the store’s 250 customers and retail staff on the ground floor were evacuated from the building but no effort was made to alert the staff on the first floor who had just returned to work after their tea break. The fire service treated the call-out as a cellar fire. Tragically, they didn’t bring a turnaround ladder or ladders long enough to reach the top floors. Within minutes the building was ablaze and the centre of the store exploded in flames.

photo of firemen at Ballantyne's fire200 fire fighters, police and volunteers using 20 appliances fought the fire that day. A large crowd looked on in horror as Dunstable House, which was made up of seven buildings linked together and built of match lining, pinex and bone dry timber, burned to the ground. 41 staff members, trapped by flames and smoke, lost their lives. A memorial was built at the Ruru Lawn Cemetery in honour of them.

It took thirty years for Ballantynes to be rebuilt and it is possibly due to strict building codes and determination of the owners that a disaster like this would never happen again that the building survived the recent earthquakes.

Many Cantabrians mourned the loss of access to Ballantynes when the Central City was red zoned due to quake damage and took advantage of bus tours to the Timaru branch to get their ‘shopping fix’ while enjoying a glass of bubbles and plenty of shopping treats.

Ballantynes has been operating in Christchurch for over 150 years and is an integral part of our city. It has withstood the test of time and remains trading. It has become a symbol of resilience in good times and bad.

The Sound of Muzak

I’ve been put on hold, or I’m in an elevator or at the supermarket. Something is my brain is screaming ” Noooooo!”  It’s that Sound of Muzak that suddenly becomes unbearable and I want to flee the building or throw the phone against the wall. This nasty stuff lulls us into wandering aimlessly through the supermarket isles blissfully picking up biscuits we don’t need and specials that will sit in our cupboards gathering dust.

After a  brief search through The Source I found this information about the history of Muzak.  It makes for interesting and somewhat scary reading and it reminded me of visiting my daughter who was working in a well known clothing store. I hated the music and asked her if she could change it.  She said they couldn’t as it was all preloaded and designed to fit the store’s brand. I had no idea that muzak had left the elevator and was now affecting my life in more ways than I expected, or wanted!

Muzak is not after all actually about the music, it is about the emotions that the music creates.  It encourages us to buy, to want to be associated with the brand that the company is selling.  We might hear music for example from Surfaid artists in an urban surf store, or drift along to the likes of  Norah Jones in a store seen as catering for the older and more refined.

Thank goodness once you have reached the luxury of your own home you can play music to suit your mood and taste.   Come into the Library for May Music Month.  We promise that there will be no muzak!

Re- Start My Heart!

book coverThanks to all the rocking and rolling that went on in Christchurch over the past year a large part of our central shopping precinct was annihilated. In a concerted effort by the Christchurch Business Association and others, a bright new shopping precinct, called Restart, has popped up in Cashel Mall to excite and rejuvenate the city centre. One of our beloved stores Ballantynes ,  has re-opened as a leading light for Restart and judging by the response of locals this  venture is very welcome.

If you would like to reminisce on what we have lost you can check out the library collection of  Heritage Images . Have a good fossick around the Heritage Pages  or read about some great Christchurch characters . If this gets your heart pumping with emotion perhaps you need to take a look at some great places  around Canterbury to take a holiday.

And why not take  a nice rest from all the strain of shopping at Restart with a visit to Christchurch City Libraries’ own restart in the city – Central South City Library. It’s a great little library.  Either way you are on to a winner!

Clues for the clueless Op-Shopper

I must admit I’m not the worlds greatest op-shopper. To me, op-shops are associated with crazy old ladies who talk to themselves and buy clothes that no one in their right mind would want. That was until I met Leone. Leone is the world’s greatest op shopper. She can walk into an op-shop with $20.00 and walk out with either a new outfit or sobook covermething she knows she can renovate into something more her style. She will even have some change. I always wondered how she did it.

It turns out we have some great tips on op-shopping on our Pulse website .  The two best pieces of advice I found were – take cash and be prepared to hunt. My first attempt was pretty hopeless. I found a necklace  with some loose beads. I could wear it as is, or I could ask a bead making friend to re-make it into something new. In the next, I make an interesting discovery – Op-shops have sales.  All clothing half price and here I strike gold. Two shirts for $5.00 and a skirt that has a small stain on it. If I can wash the stain out, that will be good, but if not, I’ll unpick the skirt and put a new piece in. That is the advantage of owning a sewing machine. We also have some books that have good ideas for altering clothing. For those who really can’t sew, try trading your baking/child-minding/tutoring skills of some funky clothing.

It’s all about stuff: Paul Gilding, the global economy, and the end of shopping

Paul GildingPaul Gilding’s session this afternoon on climate crisis and the global economy was by turns challenging, terrifying, depressing and invigorating, and certainly was a test of my speed-writing skills.  I have seven pages of closely written notes to condense into 300 words, so forgive me if I skim!

Chair Grant Redvers introduced him, and then Paul leaped straight in with the statement, “The earth is full”.  This was a rhetorical statement, he said, but is also literally true in terms of physics, chemistry and biology.  He utilised a ‘low-tech powerpoint presentation’ (aka: waving his hands around in a meaningful manner) to illustrate his point that the world economy is currently one and a half times bigger than the actual world, and that our ongoing focus on a growth economy is making this imbalance even greater.   By 2050, at current rates of growth, the problem will grow from 1.5 times capacity, to between 4 and 5 times.  This, he said, simply can’t happen – we literally cannot sustain those levels of growth.

Basically, we are currently living on a ‘credit card system’, both environmentally and economically:  living beyond our means, and borrowing from the future.  And not only have we max-ed out our own credit cards, we have done the same for our kids’ credit cards, and are now working on our grandkids’.

In further depressing news, he said that it was already too late to prevent long-term damage to the environment, but that we needed to acknowledge this and grieve, then get over it and get on with saving civilisation.

However, he said: All is not lost.  Using a brilliant analogy with England’s World War II experience, he stated his belief that we can and will get through, and shamelessly appropriated Churchill’s words by saying that when the crisis point actually arrives, we will do not what is best, but what is necessary.

There was a heap more along these lines, all riveting, and all challenging, and surprisingly positive somehow, and really there is no way I can do any of this message justice here, so I’m going to stop here, and just say, go find the book and read it, then come and find me and we can talk about it all at length!

Live local, spend local

ShopMy motto as a displaced Christchurch CBD worker is live local, spend local. I’m pledging to stick with Christchurch and part of that pledge is to spend in my local community wherever and whenever I can. I’m not a great fan of malls so I am looking to support Christchurch businesses that have had to relocate or may be operating online only. As the CBD comes back into action I’ll be looking to spend my dollars there and I’ll be supporting local tradesmen in preference to out of towners.

A good place to find out whether your favourite cafe, restaurant or foodie haunt is getting back in operation is the The Press with their Zest supplement. They are encouraging food businesses and restaurants to let them know via Facebook when they are open and what their plans are.

Want to find out if a business is open? Try My Christchurch Business is Open and  Open for Business.

Rebuild Christchurch is a popular Facebook page which may also include helpful alerts to what is going on around the city.

I like the idea of new farmers markets springing up too.

If anyone knows of any other online or other  initiatives to support Christchurch businesses and customers connecting it would be great to share them.