On a patch of Auckland’s Karangahape Road – motorway in one direction, the car yards of Great North Road in the other – a handful of small businesses show how gentrification should be done
This block of K Road businesses offer hope to heritage buildings
Auckland’s K Road has had its ups and downs. What was once the grandest strip in Auckland, on the city’s highest ridge, spent much of the 20th century in decline, with fine old buildings settling into a not-so-elegant dissolution. For the past 20 years, the street has very slowly gentrified, as art galleries and boutiques, cafes and bistros have opened up.
But one small block never seemed to change – until recently, when a handful of businesses moved in, attracted by reasonable rents, high ceilings and a sense of community. On the block east of Edinburgh St, sex shops and booze shops and a monogram company that made patches for gangs have been replaced by a cake shop, a hairdresser, a cafe and a couple of art galleries. “I just wanted a kitchen that I could bake in and a small shopfront,” says Jordan Rondel of The Caker of her move to the strip, three and a bit years ago. “I didn’t want a cute cake shop.”
Rondel and her staff recently moved a couple of doors up, to a larger space divided by tall white curtains with big windows that look out to the street. “I love the oxymoron, the contradiction between these beautiful sweet cakes and the gritty K Road people,” she says. “People complain when they can’t find a park. And I think, oh well, it works.”
Replacing The Caker is Daily Daily, whose owner Albert Yen had watched this block for a year or so before he signed the lease. He serves single-origin coffee and espresso and snacks in a gentle, elegant, narrow space with scrubbed timber boards, macrocarpa leaners and furniture designed by Brad Balle, an old school friend. “I wanted a contrast,” he says. “I wanted it to be calm, relaxing, quiet. A bit like Japan – their cafes are really quiet; you can barely hear the next table. Once the door is closed, you feel like you’re away from everything.”
Another couple of doors away, Melanie Roger Gallery – previously of Herne Bay – opened here earlier this year. “We moved to be closer to other galleries,” she says, “and to be more a part of the K Road creative district.”
And at number 466 is hair salon Colleen, owned by Lauren Gunn, who used to run a salon in Ponsonby. When it came to starting her own business, she knew where she wanted to be. “The area is very close to my heart,” she says of the block. “It’s a true neighbourhood – everyone’s out on the street on K Road, there’s not so much zipping around in your car.”
Gunn has been in-situ for a year or so, after an extensive refit by architect Sue Hillery that involved doing as much as possible to make it look like nothing had been done at all. The previous tenants had been there for 30 years, painting around their furniture in different shades. “I had a painting by Willem de Kooning as a reference, which I’d had for a very long time. I walked in and it looked pretty much like the painting.”
Colleen – along with Rondel and Roger – was helped by landlord Patrick Daly who has slowly been buying up and restoring shopfronts and studio spaces along the stretch and leasing them to young creatives. “I said no to many tenants,” says Daly. “It has meant I’ve had vacancies – but it was important to get the right mix.”
It’s a finely grained sort of gentrification, which sits comfortably next to the existing character of the area. Together, the block offers hope that small spaces in heritage buildings can foster new businesses without losing the charm of what made it possible for them to be there in the first place. “It was the building,” says Gunn, of what drew her to the space. “The light is incredible and you can see out to the harbour. It feels like the past is being resurrected.”
Words by: Simon Farrell-Green. Photography by: David Straight.