Why Auckland's Cross Street Market is proving a hit

by Johanna Thornton / 23 November, 2017
Photography Joe Hockley

Cross Street Market creators Tony Downing and Alison Reid.

Four days of madness

Could a four-day monthly market on a windy, desolate street behind Karangahape Road really take off? The creators of the quirk-filled Cross Street Market are quickly proving it can.

“When we started talking about creating a market it was almost comical – like, can we do it in any more of a crazy way?” remembers Tony Downing, one of the creators of the Cross Street Market, which transforms an ex-storage space on a empty street behind Karangahape Road into an enchanting market offering ceramics, vintage clothing, plants, music, coffee and good vibes for four days of every month. “We decided a four-day market would either be really strong and amazing or it would be exhausting and not work at all.” Downing, along with his co-creator and friend Alison Reid, decided to go for it, despite being told Auckland didn’t have enough people to make a multi-day market a success, and their reservations about the “barren” location. “We were freaking out,” says Reid, “we didn’t know how it was going to go down on Cross Street. We started calling it the four days of madness and the name just stuck.”

The market, which has been running for six months now, has proven a hit. Downing and Reid’s street cred around the K’ Road area might have something to do with that. Both had long-standing shops in St Kevins Arcade that op-shoppers of the early 2000s will remember well: He started Fast & Loose in 2003 with wife Charlotte Rust, a mecca of original 1970s and 1980s band tees, American cowboy boots, Levi’s denim jackets and special vintage pieces, and she opened Aunty Mavis, a retro and curios store, in 2009. That was a special time, with the arcade providing a sense of community that they thrived on. It also meant close contact with local artists, crafters and characters, so that when talk began of starting a market, they were inundated with people wanting to have a stall. “We were in touch with all these people who did interesting things but still had day jobs. It was just a matter of bringing them together,” says Downing.

What’s for sale? “Crockery and rock and roll,” says Reid.

The stallholders – there are 15-20 regulars with a revolving cast of three newbies – sell their wares in among the vintage clothing and retro furniture from Downing and Reid’s previous ventures. But it’s much more than an outlet for Downing and Reid’s own collector tendencies (“I wonder if collecting is a gene people have?” says Downing). It’s a showcase and stepping stone for fledgling artisans. “There aren’t a lot of avenues out there in the current economic climate for people who make artisanal goods but perhaps don’t have the funds to pursue a full business,” says Reid. “The major thing for us is to support them.” And they are walking the talk: there aren’t many markets where wacky ceramics share shelf space with wooden spoons carved out of skirting boards from old villas, where moon calendars hang above homemade pickles, and where the runaway success is an intriguing set of pink rocks formed after a concrete retaining wall fell into the ocean in New Plymouth. True story.

The look and feel of the Cross Street Market is based on a Parisian market, where people aren’t subjected to rummaging through dusty trestle tables loaded with junk, but rather “a very highly curated selection of other people’s junk”. It’s four days long to make it worthwhile for the stallholders, who spend the week before opening day carting truckloads of precious cargo to the warehouse space, which was previously the storeroom of Asian supermarket Lim Chhour on K’ Road.

Editing the space from madness into manageable is up to Downing, who sets up each zone living-room style, with art on the walls and furniture arranged just so. “We probably do a bit more than we need to, but we want to make the space beautiful,” he says. And it is, with special touches everywhere, like the hanging dried greenery centrepiece, vases filled with fresh flowers and carefully placed and polished one-of-a-kind oddities.

Equally as important as the wares is the atmosphere: it’s lively, and anything goes. Its hosts say anyone is welcome: “People can come in and hang out and read the newspaper if they want. There’s no pressure,” says Reid. The buzz comes courtesy of hot cups of Miller’s coffee from the coffee machine set up by Craig Miller himself. His boutique roastery is just down the road and having him involved was non-negotiable. “He’s the Cross Street Godfather. He always makes sure the floors are clean and does a quality check. We had to have him here,” says Reid. There’s music on Thursday and Friday, when the market stays open late and a DJ spins records, attracting a different crowd to Saturday, which has unofficially become family day.

 

An ex-storage space is transformed into a bustling Parisian-style market filled with vintage and antique treasures, plus locally made wares.

Saturdays are when children (and their parents) are entertained by two enterprising sets of primary school kids. Ballistic Badges’ Joe and Miles create badges that have proven a cult hit (their mum owns Anna Miles Gallery nearby). “They were this sensation when they turned up,” says Downing. “The badges have a childlike innocence but also possibly unintentional adult meanings.” Expect to be told which badge is right for you and why, and for Joe to be dancing along to the DJ.

Nine-year-olds Cale and Finley have a wand stall, Lazurek Wands, which they secured through “the world’s most adorable email” asking how much a table would cost them and promising parental supervision. “When I got the email I was thinking, ‘is this going to work?’. Wands are so out there and they seem a bit niche, but we had to say yes on the basis of this email,” says Downing. They sold out of wands at their first market, with happy mayhem provided by “kids running all over the place casting spells on each other”.

When asked if they miss the arcade, which has been through a series of tenancy changes since it was purchased by a new owner in 2015, eventuating in their own evictions, the answer is no. It’s the people they miss. “We wanted to emulate that old community vibe, because there was something magical about it that you couldn’t write about,” says Reid. “Everything was up in the air at the arcade [earlier this year] and we could sense that it was time for a different step.”

The fallback plan was their diffusion vintage store Search & Destroy, conveniently located next to the market on Cross Street, and which had always provided storage for clothes that didn’t fit into Fast & Loose. But when the warehouse at 4A Cross Street became available, that’s when the idea of a market began to cement and the arcade chapter was put to rest. Says Reid: “When the market place became available it sort of became a coming around of the old days up in the arcade. You take the energy with you and we’ve taken it to our new shops and street. This market is like-minded people having a go, and it’s heart-warming.” 

Meet some of the stallholders
The heart and soul of the market is a bunch of local makers and creatives.

Fiona Mackay Ceramics

Fiona Mackay creates beautiful handmade ceramics including vases, mugs and vessels in muted shades of white, cream and black. “This is my favourite place to hang out. From very early on there has been a great sense of family among the vendors.”

Melody Goods

Make-up artist by day Katie Melody Rogers sells everything from concrete lamps to homemade pickles, crystal soaps and wacky ceramics from Hawke’s Bay. “Tony and Alison have created a really fun creative space and are open to weird and crazy ideas I have.”

The Coven

The Coven is a “healing haven” offering white sage “to cleanse your house”, lotions and potions for ailments, sacred incenses, herbs, salts for bathing and “everything you need to fix the energy of your environment”, says Katoanga Finau (above).

Greatest Friend

Angela Winter-Means’ stall offers an incredible selection of natural fibre clothing dating from 1890-1990. “For me it’s a wonderful way to get reacquainted with Auckland and meet its creatively focussed residents,” she says.

Garden Objects

Lisa Lockhart from Garden Objects sells a range of “the world’s best garden wares”, as well as house plants. “A strong sense of community is building, and that’s very important for cities, and Auckland in particular,” she says.

David Merritt

Resident poet David Merritt is a K’ Road institution. Each poem is bound with a cover from Reader’s Digest Condensed Books or banana box cardboard and sells for $5 (cheese rolls or ciggies are also accepted).

Ace Firers

Emily Siddell (above) creates wheel-thrown, wood-fired ceramics with her partner Mark Goody. “It’s extremely rewarding selling directly to the public, and even more so when they return to buy more,” says Goody.

Rebel Soul Records

Tito Tafa slings records, vintage hi-fi equipment and is the market’s all-round music man. With his endless local music knowledge, he’s taken on the unofficial role of booking the market’s DJs too.

The next Cross Street Market is 23-26 Nov, 4A Cross St, central city.

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