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A humbling history - the story of Ballantynes - 160 years of Retail

WORLD is celebrating its 25th year in 2014 and whilst enjoying looking back at our history, we have found inspiration and amazement in learning the story of our retail partner in Christchurch.  This is the story of Ballantynes Department Store.

Ballantynes was established in 1854 and was originally named Dunstable House by its founders David Clarkson, his wife Esther, and sister Elizabeth Clarkson. They lived in a cottage in Cashel Street. Esther came from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, England and had been trained as a milliner. She imported 2 cases of straw hats which she sold, with sundry and other items of clothing, from the front room. Seeing how well she was doing, David built a small gabled shop for her, which extended out to the street frontage.  The business prospered and was bought in 1864 by William Pratt, under whom the business further flourished. He led the way in improving the conditions of staff, and made additions to the buildings in brick before selling the business in 1872 to John Ballantyne.

John Ballantyne was born in 1825 in Selkirk Scotland, and emigrated to Sydney in 1852 where he joined the firm of Messrs McArthur Kingsbury & Co. He was sent to Adelaide in 1853 to establish a branch there and became a partner. He later established his own business in Adelaide but sold this to Robin and Birks in order to emigrate to New Zealand. After 7 years in Dunstable House he retired to go farming in the Rangitata District of South Canterbury, and the business was carried on by a series of partnerships which at times included his three sons, eventually becoming a Company in 1920.

Ballantynes branch in Timaru was established in 1883 and moved to its present site in 1913. New premises were opened in 1986, and the shop extended into the first floor of this building in 2006. It is interesting to note that the architects for the Stafford Street building were Messrs Clarkson & Ballantyne: Mr Clarkson being a son of the founders of Dunstable House, while Mr Ballantyne was a nephew of John Ballantyne.

The Ballantynes fire on 1947 was a tragic event in the history of New Zealand and for Christchurch and Ballantynes in particular. 41 people lost their lives, 39 staff and 2 of the company's auditors from the partnership of Stewart Beckett.  A civil funeral was held in Christchurch Cathedral on Sunday 23 November 1947 and thousands of local Cantabrians lined the streets in tribute. The funeral cortage stretched all the way from the Cathedral Square to the Ruru cemetery in Linwood where there is a special grave for the unfortunate victims.

A Royal Commission of enquiry into the tragedy was conducted and is available for public viewing. And a full account of the fire can be found in Gordon Ogilvie's book, 'Ballantynes: The Story of Dunstable House, 1854-2004'. As a result of the royal commission many changes were subsequently made to the funding and management of the national fire service, building codes for commercial and public buildings and health and safety conduct for commercial premises throughout New Zealand.

As with the majority of Christchurch city centre, including the complete destruction of the original WORLD Christchurch store, Ballantynes was badly damaged by the 22 February 2011 earthquake, however thankfully there was no loss of life. The business was closed for 8 months but finally reopened at 100% of the building code on 29 October 2011. Approximately 30 staff were made redundant, mainly part time and full time sales positions due to fewer customers shopping in the city.

Today, J Ballantyne and Co maintains a substantial business with shops in Christchurch, Timaru, and at Christchurch International Airport. Ballantynes employs over 300 people, including some members of the Ballantyne family, and maintains its traditions of service and quality, while keeping abreast of the fashions and times.

Ballantynes is committed to remaining in the city centre and adding vibrancy to the heart of Christchurch. With the large scale rebuild of the city centre, Ballantynes is looking forward to a first class retail precinct and maintains a real sense of obligation to be part of the new city and continue to serve its customers with quality merchandise and excellent service.

WORLD has now been a part of the Ballantynes family for over a year and a half and we have been fortunate enough to find a new following among loyal Ballantynes customers, whilst also continuing relationships with long time WORLD customers in the South Island.  Being surrounded by such incredible history is both humbling and inspiring for our brand in its mid-twenties. Ballantynes has been able to retain its antique charm and original sensibility whilst continuing to introduce new ideas and new customers into its story in a way a baby like WORLD can only hope to learn from! 

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