Significant birthday for store with Dunedin roots

One of the first Briscoes stores, on the corner of Princes and Jetty Sts, Dunedin. Photo by the Evening Star.
One of the first Briscoes stores, on the corner of Princes and Jetty Sts, Dunedin. Photo by the Evening Star.

A Dunedin retailer which became a 41-store national chain marks its 150th birthday today.

Homewares retailer Briscoes started out as a small shop in George St, Dunedin, in 1862. The company's Otago origins are documented in a book released today, Briscoes: 150 Years in New Zealand, by Auckland business historian Ian Hunter.

"While the Briscoes of today is best known for its popular household products, it began its life as a hardware retailer providing equipment like shovels, picks, tents and lanterns to prospectors during the Central Otago gold rush in the 1860s," Dr Hunter said.

"Full column advertisements in the Otago Daily Times promoted tools, oils, bedspreads, boilers, even sausage-machines - everything that a busy colonist would need, delivered direct from Melbourne," he said.

"Briscoes brought the best manufactured goods of the world to our shores and became the first, international mercantile business to establish a presence in New Zealand."

In November 1863, the company opened an iron yard premises on George St.

"Briscoes was a key supplier of iron and demand for iron during that time was high, because it was crucial to the development of colonial enterprise," Dr Hunter said.

In 1872, Briscoes expanded to its new Dunedin premises on the corner of Jetty and Princes Sts.

"Their new venue was very soon the centrepiece of commercial activity in the city, both for its sheer size, as well as imposing architecture," Dr Hunter said.

"Until 1902, Briscoes was the biggest supplier of tea in New Zealand. Fast forward to the first two decades of the 20th century and the commercial direction of Briscoes changed, with the company importing Wunderlich ceiling tiles, which today still adorn the classic, ornate Victorian-style vestibule in Dunedin's Railway Station."

Briscoes' influence on Dunedin and New Zealand architecture is still evident today, with its imported building products surviving in many buildings.

"Briscoes Dunedin branch supplied and installed the ceilings for some of the who's who in New Zealand commerce, including Arthur Barnett and A.T. Inglis and Hallenstein Brothers' Octagon store," Dr Hunter said.

nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

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