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The Glorious Department Store Era – Remembering Trathen’s & Co.

Nelson Provincial Museum Pupuri Taonga o Te Tai Ao is kaitiaki (caregiver) of an extensive range of taonga (treasures) that record our region’s history.

The Museum’s vast online collection provides instant access to a wide variety of records such as a Photographic Collection dating from the 1860s which includes the UNESCO inscribed Tyree Studio Collection.

The Glorious Department Store Era – Remembering Trathen’s & Co.

A world apart from online shopping, the grandeur of visiting department stores like Trathen’s was for many a special and memorable outing.

Do you or someone you know have memories of shopping at Trathen & Co. Department Store in Trafalgar Street?

These photographs from Nelson Provincial Museum’s collection show Trathen’s through the years, from the early entrepreneurial days to rebuilding through adversary – the business saw its way through WWI, WWII, the Great Depression and numerous fires and earthquakes!

Although Trathen’s is now part of our local history, its memory is a gift to the future of Whakatū Nelson as a reminder of our region’s resilience, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Trathen & Co. shop front. Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones Collection: 321223

This photo shows Trathen & Co.’s department store in its early location in Bridge Street, Nelson where it was located from 1904. A boy is at the kerb on a bicycle, and another bicycle is parked nearby. The store was opened by Benjamin Trathen who had brought his experience in drapery and department stores when he moved to Nelson from Australia.

Disasterous Fire at Nelson. Messrs Trathen, Webster, & Shields Burned. 3.1.1920. Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones Collection: 321306.

This photo shows the third fire to affect Trathen’s stores. This fire in January 1920 gutted the wooden Trathen’s building and others nearby. The department store was rebuilt into a grand brick three-story building which opened on Trafalgar Street two years later in 1922.

Trathen & Co building. Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones Collection: 310030

Likely to have been taken on the opening day of the new building, 5th of April 1922, this photo shows the shop front of Trathen & Co. on Trafalgar Street. A large crowd lines the footpath in front of the building. A large curved stained-glass window spans the upper two floors. Several men are on the parapet.

Trathen’s building. Nelson Provincial Museum Collection: NPM2018.34.8

A later photograph depicts the more recognisable era of coffee shops, cinnamon cappuccinos, asparagus rolls and Santa parades.

This Tretham & Co. window was displayed earlier in 2023 in a special exhibition at Nelson Provincial Museum Pupuri Taonga o Te Tai Ao, ‘Morimoritia Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho | Treasured: Objects of Mana and Significance.’

The 2011 Christchurch earthquake prompted additional consideration of seismic risk to the building, and this spelled the end of Trathen’s long reign. Demolition began on the building in June 2016.

Some of Trathen’s iconic stained-glass windows remain in the care of Nelson Provincial Museum Pupuri Taonga o Te Tai Ao.

If you enjoyed these photographs, we hope you’ll explore our online collection – you might even find records connected to you!

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