Queens Arcade

Queens Arcade
by The Auckland Psychogeographer

Permanently a breath of fresh air at the bottom of Queen Street, Queen’s Arcade is an amalgamation of two originally distinct 1920’s buildings into one L-shaped shopping and office arcade, famed for a certain old world gentility, a home of faded eccentricity rather than diamanté brashness. The arcade’s own site paints an excellent picture of the building’s various remodellings and refurbishments here.

Without the mass dining or parking amenities of shopping malls, this arcade is a specialist in specialists, a mix of retail, boutique hospitality and niche services. It’s modest, a tad ornate, airy and human scale, with a gorgeous skylight - giving the whole place an atmosphere quite the opposite of the modern competition, all boxy, cheesy, designed by committee.

Famous tenants here include the iconic Marbecks Records - est. 1934 - as well the highly esteemed Preston and Maurice Taylors (owned by Brendon De Silva) est.1897, and up until recently, in a sad development for shoe connoisseurs, T. Clark Men’s Shoes. Established in 1899, this was for decades a premiere destination for quality footwear in the CBD. With the advent of functional global online shopping, their increasingly staggering prices on imported English and Italian shoes were finally unsustainable, and after a steep decline into bland anonymity, the store has vanished. So, around the same time, did the little tea shop on the arcade’s Customs Street entrance. The city - the world - was once peppered with places like this. Ham and butter sandwiches in little triangles, petite sausage rolls with a knife and fork, scalding tin pots of tea - it was a twee institution whose owners must be aggrieved that arcade management allowed more than a few competitors to set up just steps away.

Of the remainder, there’s a redoubtable cookware shop, a Swiss watch repairer, Russian gifts, specialists in wool and knitting supplies, a jaunty hat emporium of national repute, plus a restaurant / bar with a deck overlooking Queen Street from the tree tops. The much-recommended Susan and Tony’s dressmaking and alterations business is an invaluable rarity in a city of mostly disposable fashion. The arcade basement discreetly houses King of Cards - Auckland’s speciality retailer of hobbyist supplies, board games and role playing games.

Crucially, Queens Arcade is home to one of the more stately escalators in the city - once upon a time the kind of state of the art mod-con people would flock to your shop merely to ride upon. Now, largely, it’s an afterthought, but it should be relished. One abreast, just a tad slow, it gracefully takes you up just one flight, to a quieter level of offices, travel agents, tailors and an unexpected grand piano. At Christmastime the arcade hires a pianist to invisibly churn out the yuletide hits to the punters below. In its own low-key way, it’s quite an acoustic treat. The alternative to the escalator is a marble staircase, with walls painted with an ersatz Italian backdrop, and a spouting-lion water feature. Hardly a world-beating fountain, certainly, but in Auckland you take what you’re given.

The arcade also boasts a few scattered tables and chairs, under the skylight. Just right for assessing your purchases - wool from New Mexico, a red felt fedora, a Miles Davis LP, miscellaneous baubles - in the light of day, with a ham sandwich.

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