Jozi City Feature

Sitting pretty on Pritchard

Before Johannesburg’s malls and shopping centres were built outside the central business district (CBD), the city’s elite converged in downtown Johannesburg for shopping and business.

“Going to town was a pleasurable outing and you had to look good,” recalls 86-year-old Margot Richards. She remembers heading to town as a teenage girl with her mother in the early 1940s. “My mom made my clothes so we went to town for ‘special day’ shopping,” she says.

“The biggest shops were John Orrs and Stuttafords; they were huge shops with huge floors for different clothes. When you went to town, with your hat, gloves and handbag, you knew you had the whole morning to shop.

“I remember, after shopping, we would decide which tea room to go to and possibly meet up with familiar faces. All the big shops had tea rooms,” Richards recalls.

The Stuttafords building, located on the corner of Pritchard and Rissik streets, is a reminder of the era when retail giants occupied the CBD.

A high-end department store, Stuttafords was established in Cape Town in 1858 and opened its first store in Johannesburg in 1893 on Pritchard Street.

In present-day Johannesburg, the building is no longer occupied by Stuttafords but by a McDonald’s franchise that has a lease to remain on the premises until 2019.

edgars_McDs PHOTOD

The old Stuttafords building (right) occupied by a McDonald’s franchise on its ground floor, on the corner of Rissik and Pritchard streets. SA retail giant,the Edcon Group,has at least five of its stores on Pritchard Street,the largest being Edgars City (left).

                                        

Fashion has also changed and Pritchard Street is now populated by ordinarily dressed Jo’burgers – no fancy hats, gloves and dresses in sight.

Shoes and bags

Just a street away from the old Stuttafords building, on the corner of Pritchard and Kerk streets, is a colourful shoe store called Joey and Sam. Inside is an array of trendy shoes for men, women and children. Popular brands sell for up to a R100 less than in retail stores outside the CBD, including modern-day Stuttafords.

The shop is busy and two casually dressed security guards greet one at the door. The till is similar to that of a bank – you can only see the cashier’s face behind the bars. You make your payment and retrieve your purchase in a space below the till.

Yolanda Matikinca is a 24-year-old self-confessed “shoe-aholic” and says her love affair with the CBD’s retail shops dates back to her first year at varsity in 2006. “I actually discovered Joey and Sam one day when I was heading for Edgars, which is just opposite the shop. I went in, and never wanted to get out,” she smiles.

PhOTODDSC_0150

Jozi CBD resident and “shop-aholic” Yolanda Matikinca outside her favourite shoe shop, Joey & Sam,after buying high heels.

Matikinca lives on Rissik Street, which she says is “wonderful”, staying close to all the shops she loves. “I once struggled to find a pair of gold heels, until I found them at Joeys for like a R100. And I bought my graduation shoes there,” she says. “Rhontshi’s are convenient, I tell you,” she adds. A rhontshi is isiXhosa slang for hidden or underground retail shops in the CBD.

As you continue to walk along Pritchard, you’ll come across a busy intersection where the Central Methodist Church is located. Loud gospel music blares from big speakers near the entrance of the church, while hawkers sell whatever wares they have to passers-by. Some people cross the street into the iconic Smal Street Mall, which starts from Bree Street and runs through Jeppe, Kerk, Pritchard, President, and Market to Commissioner Street into the Carlton Centre, another landmark shopping hub in the CBD.

Walking past the high court on Pritchard and Von Brandis streets, and crossing to the right side of the road, one could easily miss the staircase that descends into a well-decorated handbag store, appropriately called Handbag Superstore.

This is one of the few remaining family-owned stores on Pritchard Street. Shop owner Ridwan Mohamed recalls how his father, the late Yunus Mohamed, opened the shop upstairs in 1980, and sold hats, costumes, belts and jewellery. The bags section in the basement was opened in 1991.

His great-grandfather was from India, and his father grew up in Becker Street, close to Diagonal Street, one of Johannesburg’s first residential areas.

End of apartheid opens doors

Mohamed boasts that his shop attracts clientele from as far as North Africa, and that business peaked once apartheid laws were banned and people could freely move around the city and the country.

During apartheid, laws such as the Group Areas Act of 1950 and Natives Land Act of 1913 systematically assigned racial groups to different residential and business sections in urban areas. The law aimed to restrict the movement of non-whites in developed areas such as the CBD. During the 1980s, major corporations and whites in general moved out of the city centre into suburbia as a result of the country’s political instability. There was a sharp increase in crime, because of a lack of proper policing in combination with the uncontrolled influx of people from other parts of the country and the continent. This dramatic transition really took off after the Group Areas Act and the Land Act were repealed on June 5 1991.

ridwanPHOTOD

Ridwan Mohamed chats to a customer in his handbag shop

                                    

Mohamed explains that his store only sells to black or African customers. “Blacks are stress-free,” he says. “We believe in black people and this is our way of attempting to empower them.”

This sales policy is probably the result of circumstance rather than choice, as it is mainly black people who shop in the CBD these days.

As for the price difference between downtown and mall shops, he says that that has a lot to do with labour costs, which makes mall retailers more expensive. After all, they all buy from the same suppliers. Brands are almost 40% cheaper in the CBD, but the non-branded goods are the biggest seller. “Everything is made in China. They have the manufacturing plants; their labour laws are not stringent compared to ours. South African labour is unreliable and we have too many strikes,” he says, referring to South Africa’s annual strike season where workers from various sectors down their tools to demand higher wages.

Handbag Superstore also has outlets in Ormonde, Alberton and near Clearwater Mall on the West Rand.

Mohamed explains that his family’s business philosophy is inspired by their Muslim religion. “In our religion we are not allowed to take loans. It’s the equivalent of giving up your life to paying debt, because it’s not your money. If you don’t have money for something you move on.”

The business of fashion

Four years ago, the Gauteng department of sports, arts, culture and recreation issued a report titled Gauteng’s creative industries: The fashion design sector.

It acknowledged the tremendous growth that the South African fashion industry has experienced since 1994, crediting the introduction of SA Fashion Week as the main catalyst for this growth.

In the report, the fashion design sector is said to have made a turnover of R193-million, while employing 2 700 people and contributing about R121-million to Gauteng’s GDP. Seventy-nine percent of those employed in the sector were black and nearly three-quarters were female.

The financial viability of the fashion industry led to government funding the development of the Fashion District.

Rees Mann, co-founder of the Fashion District, is a simply dressed, well-built man with some grey hair, which makes him look older than his 48 years.

He struggles to describe his passion for fashion, and instead just hands over his business card. “Rees Mann Fashionado: n 1. An ardent supporter or devotee of fashion. 2 a patron of fashion. 3 one with an affinity for fashion,” reads his design-inspired business card.

The word Fashionado was created especially for him, he explains.

Mann speaks with passion about his family’s relationship with Pritchard Street. He is the third generation in a family that has been working on this street since 1948, and the longest remaining family business there.

He says that Nelson Mandela’s inauguration 1994 left him hugely disappointed. “It was the biggest fashion event but we [South African delegates] were the worst dressed. Our African neighbours were proud in their traditional attire.”

He says it dawned on him what apartheid had done to our sense of Africanism; as a result we pushed Euro-centrism.

Initially, just after 1994, he had approached the city council with his vision for a pan-African fashion district, but no one paid attention to him, and his timing was off.

It took another seven years before his pan-African dream came to life, when former city manager Graeme Reed became the first CEO of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) and believed in Mann’s idea.

Fashion District FlagPHOTOD_0062

Flags mark the borders of the Fashion District on the east of Pritchard Street

        

The JDA spent R30-million towards Fashion District, which falls in line with the city’s 2030 long-term economic development strategy. There is now about R1-billion worth of investments in the area.

“It’s far more exciting for me to revive something that’s in decay than to start something new,” says Mann.

A family affair

Mann says that his greatest risk was buying the building which is now SEWAfrica. “I took a bond on my house, my wife and my kids for that building,” he jokes.

He bought the building in November 2005 and challenged himself to fix it and have it ready in three months for its official opening. Against all odds, he managed, and invited established designers such as Clive Rundell, who had a studio at the building, and Bongiwe Walaza, who had a boutique running at the adjacent Fashion Kapitol, for a major fashion show.

SEWAfrica is his proudest achievement to date. He recounts how he opened a fashion design college with a full-year bridging course. “We get no subsidy from government but we are 50% cheaper than most fashion training institutes,” he says.

His motto: “Money doesn’t buy talent, talent is within.”

The SEWAfrica building is adorned with colours of the South African flag, from the stairs at the reception area to the artworks on the walls. The training centre has students mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds and it gives them the same opportunities as technikon students.

sew africa studentPHOTOD

SEWAfrica Training Centre student Andiswa Nxumalo leaves the building after a lecture.

                 

Mann is especially proud that four of his students were selected to show at SA Fashion Week, while only two were chosen from other institutions.

“Fashion District is a continuing project, and I don’t know far it will grow,” he says. The district has studio and office spaces available at reasonable prices and also has restaurants.

Billionaire and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson made a surprise visit to the district earlier this year for the opening of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, situated in the Fashion Kapitol.

Mann hopes his family’s legacy will continue. “We are a family business and we will remain so.” He tells the story of how his father, David, and his grandmother, Mary, emigrated from London. His father qualified as a tailor at the age of 17 and then found a job on Pritchard Street. By the 1960s David and his mother had established a client base among Johannesburg’s wealthy mining magnates. They established Mannette’s and provided high-end items to fashion retail giants such as Edgars. The business had closed down by 1994, because as Rees Mann explains: “The offices [in the CBD] had closed. And the businessmen relocated to other hubs, and the buzz of Pritchard Street had died down.”

His young daughter, Roxy, now helps out at the SEWAfrica office which her mother, Rose, works from. Her proud dad says that Roxy is also a budding designer and has recently returned from studying in London. “She will be showing the family some of her work from London today, and my dad is also coming to visit, so it’s going to be a special family thing.”

And the old Stuttafords building? It was to be auctioned by Auction Alliance on September 28 2011 and there were plans to convert it into 143 residential apartments. Auction Alliance’s Gareth Botes says the building had a R30-million price tag at the auction, and that they are “currently busy with an offer”.

Stuttafords PHOTOD0027

A “For Sale” sign on the old Stuttafords building which went under the hammer on September 28 for R30-million.

                     

Tags: , ,

About Yanga Soji

Yanga Soji is from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape but completed her high school education in Johannesburg in 2006. She completed a BA, majoring in media studies and international relations in 2010 at the University of the Witwatersrand. She then enrolled for a career-entry journalism honours at Wits. She is curious about her world and writes about anything from sports and music to hard news. She has a strong interest in women and children’s rights and aims to change the plight of the voiceless through her journalism.

Comments are closed.