Eyebright's First Home
Eyebright was longer at the Grape Escape than at our present site. We were there for our first eighteen years. Back then it wasn’t ‘the Grape Escape’. It was ‘the Old Cheese Factory’, built in 1914 and produced cheese and butter for twenty years until the Waimea Dairy company consolidated production at their Brightwater factory. The building was in a bad state of repair in 1986 when we moved in. Prior to us there had been a lawnmower repair man at the front and Agricultural Lime stored at the back. The lime remained during our first year and was problematic as it seeped through the wall.
Originally the building was simply a place to hang our dried flowers. Our main customer was a gift shop called ‘The Bay Tree’ in the Richmond Mall. We opened a shop in the small room to the right of and few steps down from the main area. People always wanted to go up the stairs to see the flowers hanging, so we decided that we would make that a retail area as well. Eyebright came to be known as an Aladdin’s Cave, and went from strength to strength, so much so that we embarked on a grand folly : Opening a shop in Wellington.
We took up the lease of mezzanine floor in the newly refurbished Harbour City Centre on Lampton Quay. It was all very stylish and the Wellington Eyebright shop looked great, but I well remember sitting there all day and taking $73; nowhere near covering the cost of rent, let alone staff, advertising or anything. We haemorrhaged money, and had to retreat with all haste. What worked in Nelson would not work in central Wellington. Businesspeople were not interested in buying our country fare. We may have done better on the outskirts, but we will never know. Eyebright was set back to below zero, and had a long slog repaying debt.
The rental in the Old Cheese Factory was by memory $30 per week, but I had to do makeshift repairs to the old building We also had to keep an eye out for Mrs. Cross, our landlady who lived in the house that was where ‘Enhance with Plants’ is now located.
Mrs. Cross died and the two acre site was bought by a partnership of vineyard owners, David Holmes and John Harrey. They made proper repairs to the old Cheese Factory, brought in new tenants to join Eyebright and shifted an old cottage onto the site. The cottage became the Grape Escape Cafe. They also created a retail area for their own wines at the back of the building.
The Eyebright Building in 1986
Just Prior to Relocating (2003)
In 2001 we told David and John that we were going to move on to our own property. Soon afterwards they also decided to sell. Bob Haswell, (previously the owner of Rotoroa Lodge), bought the site and has owned it up until recently when he sold to market gardening family the Connings. The Connings are now up and running selling their own vegetables, and will soon expand to a complete range of produce once permission comes through from the District Council.
May 05, 2017 • Peter Owen