The decline of department stores was closely related to the advent of shopping malls.
In suburban areas, small shops were clustered in neighbourhood centres along major roads. Some department stores opened branches at strategic locations in the shopping strips in order to capture suburban customers.
The first pedestrian shopping court in New Zealand was Hillary Court, opened in the state (public) housing development of Naenae, Lower Hutt, in 1954. Austrian architect Ernst Plischke had designed a modern civic and shopping centre for Naenae in 1943. The project was not completed as he had planned, but Hillary Court, with its adjacent parking area, retained some of its elements and functions.
The American model
In the US from the 1950s, Austrian architect Victor Gruen had developed the concept of suburban shopping centres or malls. He saw them as creating a focal point for a variety of community activities, as well as successful retailing. They aimed to re-create an idealised city in microcosm, incorporating walkways and open spaces, surrounded by a unified group of shops. Malls had ample free parking, and usually included several large, anchor establishments (often department stores or supermarkets).
‘Many housewives find that visits to the new [shopping] centres with one or two friends produce a kind of euphoria,’ an observer noted in 1972. ‘The almost illicit feeling of being actively encouraged to spend, the glossy displays, coffee bars, and the anonymity all encourage a freer attitude to buying. A far cry this from a daily gossip over a pushchair in the butcher’s shop.’1
New Zealand’s first shopping mall
New Zealand department-store management saw American-style shopping malls as the way of the future, offering a solution to the difficulties of reaching consumers in the suburbs. In 1961, two of Auckland’s largest department stores, Farmers and Milne & Choyce, together with the chain-store giant Woolworths, purchased land in suburban New Lynn. Supported financially by the AMP insurance and finance firm, the three companies each set up an anchor store in the new centre. With shops surrounding an open courtyard, and parking for 500 cars, LynnMall, the country’s first shopping mall, opened in October 1963.
Malls in existing streets
Some existing shop-lined streets were closed off to vehicles. Cuba Mall, established in Wellington in 1969, and Queenstown Mall, planned in 1970, were converted streets which remained successful pedestrian malls in the early 2000s. They were a stepping-stone on the way to enclosed shopping malls.