I've noticed, and I still see it on New Regent Street, there's
a friendship among the owners. And it grows out to the people coming into the street.
Although the deadly rumble left 38 shops in this pedestrian mall untouched, the city prohibited businesses from returning until their interior infrastructure met the new earthquake safety code.
Integral to New Regent Street and its family of business owners during the two-year rebounding process was fellow, longtime property owner Betty Hazeldine, or “Queen Elizabeth” as one tram driver dotingly referred to her. Hazeldine retired from her co-owned business, Pastel Shoe Dryer shortly after the destructive quake and volunteered within days to serve as vice chair for property owners on New Regent Street.
Over the past four years, Hazeldine—who also serves as ambassador to the district—has seen New Regent Street business owners and Christchurch residents collaborate to cultivate cooperative energy in one of the city’s most prominent tourist destinations.
“I’ve noticed, and I still see it on New Regent Street, there’s a friendship amongst the owners,” Hazeldine said with a beaming smile across her face. “And it grows out to the people coming into the street.”
NEW REGENT STREET
Story by Taylor Armer
Tucked away in its own
pastel-tinted bubble, New Regent Street serves as the cultural hub for some of Christchurch’s most creative business owners following the February 2011 earthquake.
Photos by Kaylin Bowen
On a leisurely stroll down the 79-meter (0.05-mile), brick-paved road, visitors quickly spot the cohesive palette of soft blue, green and yellow along the upper level façades and the variety of shopping and dining options offered at the lower level.
The “most beautiful street in New Zealand” has had a history equally colorful, according to its official website. Christchurch residents used the area as a camping ground for circuses in 1863, a skating rink three times (1888, 1902, 1917), a boot factory in 1891 and a picture theatre in 1908 before it was refashioned as a boutique shopping site in 1932. After it was made a pedestrian mall in 1995, visitors entered from either Armagh Street or Gloucester Street to patron novel shops like Hazeldine’s.
The eclectic assortment of shops, boutiques and cafés of today’s New Regent Street was non-existent on April 20, 2013; only five of its 19 tenanted businesses reopened.
Hazeldine called those business owners brave because the devastating tremor limited foot traffic, leveled nearby offices and carparks and derailed the tourist-packed tram route that stops directly on the street.
Geoffrey Gao, said that since he reopened Coffee Lovers after the earthquake, he noticed how isolated New Regent Street was from the rest of Christchurch.
“We were like a lonely island in a sea,” Gao said. “[People] needed a boat or a ship to come to the street because of all the traffic and construction.”
Regardless of their preferred figurative travel method, customers have returned to the coffee shop at almost the same rate as before the earthquake. His coffee and food bar (Café Stir) serve up to 200-500 customers a day.
Customers may have heard via travel magazines, websites or word of mouth that there’s something indescribably different about Coffee Lovers coffees, lattes, espressos and mochas.
Gao, or Dr. Coffee as he’s known to loyal customers, approaches creating the perfect cup of Joe with an almost scientific precision. Eighteen years of medical training drilled into his head, “there is zero chance to make a mistake” even when serving coffee.
Even though he described his passion for all things coffee bean related as “very serious,” the self-taught connoisseur grinned widely when he spoke of his businesses and the commercial district’s future, an additional five years removed from the earthquake.
“Before the earthquake, you’d have to turn many, many pages in traveling magazines to see anything about the street,” Gao said as he animatedly flipped through an imaginary magazine. “Now, you read about it in the front pages. New Regent Street is the highest point of Christchurch.”
Whether New Regent Street is at the summit or what Hazeldine nicknamed the “center place” of tourism in Christchurch, business owners, residents and tourists have responded with an upsurge of creativity to the quake’s lasting remnants of desolation.
Citywide restoration initiatives such as “Fill the Gap” and “Life in Vacant Spaces” have deputized entrepreneurs and artists to employ their creativity for an economic and morale boost for the city. At 16 years old, Jed Joyce welcomed the opportunity to sell gelato out of a mobile cart.
He rolled gelato on weekends and throughout his high school summers on the vacant lot next to his would-be storefront on New Regent Street for three years.
“Because of these cool rebuilding initiatives, people have [constructed] art sculptures in abandoned lots, started gelato carts in my case and [landscaped] an awesome garden to fill in the gaps around the city,” Joyce said. “Lots of young people, like me, have had the opportunity to be a part of rebuilding Christchurch.”
Joyce opened Rollickin’ in November 2016 and shared that he has undergone phase two to transform the upstairs area to a dining area with another kitchen specializing in “crazy delicious desserts.” Downstairs, visitors can sample—and later purchase—organic gelato and dairy-free sorbets flavors that vary by the season.
In addition to his ambitious outlook for his restaurant, he asserted that New Regent Street and Christchurch were in their next phase of rebuilding.
“Everything’s starting to reopen,” Joyce explained. “[The city has] taken down the buildings that were unsafe, which has left heaps of space for more creative opportunity. I feel Christchurch is back now and we’re all working together to bring the city and its people back.”
I feel Christchurch is back now and we're all working together to bring the city and its people back."