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Kirkcaldie & Stains, Wellington

By Museums Victoria    |   Thursday, 26 August 2021

Kirkcaldie and Stains is a prestigious retail business. It is the Wellington equivalent of Melbourne's George's department store. it sells a range of expensive/prestigious brands for which they are the sole Wellington and/or New Zealand agents.

According to the history of the company posted on their website, the key dates for the business are as follows:

  • 1863 - Business founded by Englishman John Kirkaldie, who had been apprenticed as a draper; and Scot Robert Stains, who had a retail trade background. The men met in Sydney, Australia, and decided to pool their capital to establish a business in New Zealand. They settled on Wellington as the place, and their first store was the hulk of a wrecked ship, at Lambton Quay.
  • 1864 - Moved into Waterloo House, two storey premises on the same site.
  • 1868 - Moved to new premises on land reclaimed from the harbour, corner of Lambton Quay and Brandon Streets. This site is part of the block of land still occupied by the business today.
  • 1871 - 1876 - Branch store on the corner of Ghuznee and Cuba Streets, Wellington
  • 1886 - Robert Stains returns to England and the partnership was dissolved. The business remained in the hands of the Kirkcaldie family until the 1930s.
  • 1897 & 1908 - Extensions to the 1868 premises. 1908 extensions give the business the façade for which it is still famous today.
  • 1897 - 1917 - Branch store in Napier, New Zealand. Since this branch was closed Kirkcaldie and Stains has been a single location business.
  • 1931 - Business sold by the Kirkcaldie family to British Overseas Stores, an organisation with retail stores around the world.
  • 1985 - Business bought by Renouf Corporation (later Hellaby Holdings). Significant redevelopment of premises, including construction of two 14 storey business towers at rear of block, completed 1989.
  • 1994 - Hellaby Holdings sells business, stock bought primarily by people of Wellington, including staff and customers.
Kirkcaldie & Stains - Drapers

A.F. Robb supplies some additional biographical details about the business and its principals in his article Currency Tokens and Wellington Tradesmen. Kirkaldie was born in Scotland on 13 February 1838, and met Robert Stains while they were working in adjoining drapery businesses in London. They met again while they were both working at a drapery store in Sydney in the early 1860s.

Their first shop was 16 feet square and converted by [previous owner] John Plimmer from the ship Inconstant which had been wrecked in 1849 on Barrett Reef... Even though Wellington was very small trade was brisk, and new premises were soon required. In 1868 two small sections further north in Lambton Quay were obtained from the Provincial Government at 12 [pounds] and 16 [pounds] per foot frontage (worth 500 [pounds] a foot in 1925)... High class goods at reasonable prices were a feature of the firm, they also had a large mail order business which totalled 15,000 letters in 1893... John Kirkcaldie was joined by his son Sidney in 1890... [The founder] retired to his Nairn Street Mansion in 1918 and died on 3 October 1925, aged 87. John Kirkcaldie had been Chairman of Wellington-Manawatu Railway when the government took it over, also Director of Commercial Union Assurance Co., and was connected with Kelburn Land and Estate Co. and Kelburn Tramway Co. and the Wellington Deposit, Mortgage, and Building Association.

The firm placed a prominent three page advertisement in Bull's Wellington Almanac for 1866, taking up the last pages in the volume. Their advertiement was made even more prominent because it used blue ink (rather than the black) for two of the pages. The pages were arranged as follows:

  1. Picture of Waterloo House, with text side bars;
  2. Description of Drapery trade; 3) Description of milinery and mourning trade.
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