Capital Folly

Eyebright September 1986.JPG
Eyebrights Beginnings
1986
Harbour City Centre 1989.JPG

If you’re a long-term customer, you will recall that for a long time (half of Eyebrights 35 years), the shop was in the old cheese factory which is now the part of ‘The Old Factory Corner’ or ‘Connings’.

 

I think we paid $40 per week plus patching up leaks and providing an interest for Edna Cross, who lived on the property in a house next door.

 

I used to drive between paddocks tending a vast range of crops which I dried at yet another site, in a huge repurposed chicken shed.

 

My wife at the time, and business partner, Adrienne, and I bought a house.  Such was our optimism that Adrienne coveted owning a Honda Prelude and even joked about owning an executive jet.

 

It seemed to us and our accountant that if Eyebright was to grow, we would need to open a branch in a bigger centre.

 

Adrienne, who was from Wellington, went off on a few reconnaissance missions to the capital and finally found us a very stylish shop in the Harbour City Centre on Lambton Quay.

The Harbour City Centre
1989

We had a wine and nibbles opening with guests, Phillip Woollaston and Ken Shirley speaking (MPs for Nelson and for Tasman).  I remember Phillip quipping about the colonisation of Wellington by the regions.

 

We opened two months before Christmas, and despite not being able to afford any advertising in the big city papers, trading was satisfactory.

Interior of shop at Harbour City Centre.
The Wellington Shop

Between Christmas and New Years our staff needed holidays, so I flew over to man the shop along with Adrienne.  I well remember taking $73 on one of those days and similar figures on other days.  This came nowhere near covering our costs.

What none of us had appreciated was that Wellington emptied out after Christmas.  You could have fired a cannon ball down the quay and not hit anything.  We carried on haemorrhaging money for a few weeks more and then decided on bold action.

We were planning on reneging on our lease, and if we did that while our stock was on the landlords premises, it would be impounded.  I was to go back and empty out the shop.  This was to be done with three other capable young men at 5am on a Sunday morning.

Never have I done anything more exciting.  The night before the heist I couldn’t sleep.  Before first light I drove a large hire truck down to the Harbour City Centre and met my helpers.  I had a card and security code to open the door.  We let ourselves in and proceeded to empty the shop.  I directed operations while my men rapidly worked.   We brought loads to the door.  I opened the door.  We piled everything on the sidewalk, and then quickly loaded it into the truck.  In a little under two hours, we transformed our beautiful urban Eyebright into a vacant space.

I then drove to a location near the ferry terminal where we had a shipping container waiting.  By 9:00 am the container was loaded.

The plan was, of course, flawed because, of course, a flash venue like The Harbour City Centre would have some kind of security system or security personnel.   But we blocked that thought out of our minds.  We had no other choice than to get out of that shop and that lease before we went bankrupt.  It was a miracle that there was no security.

 

The owner of the Harbour City Centre would have come in on Monday to find a blank space where Eyebright had been, and he would have received a phone call from Bruce Bornholdt, Adrienne’s uncle who was a formidable Wellington Lawyer.  Uncle Bruce told him to keep his hands off his niece and her partner.  And we never heard anything more.  (In our favour, due to lassitude, the lease papers were never signed).

 

We sold our house, moved into a rental cottage and began the years of recovering from our capital city folly.

 

The funny thing about it all was that throughout the saga of going down and then fighting to get back up, neither Adrienne or I ever felt despondent.  It was all quite exciting and it provided a learning experience that no PhD at Harvard business school or any other business school could come close to matching.