Expanding the Business

With the business experiencing extraordinary growth, Leslie decided once more to go against popular ideal and build on the outskirts of the main shopping area. This time around Leslie built on a scale not seen before in Christchurch. The Millers building on Tuam Street was to be the largest building in Christchurch at the time, the second largest building in New Zealand, and it was to boast the South Island’s first ever escalator.
  • Millers’ store in Tuam Street, 1939

    Millers’ store in Tuam Street, 1939

    Millers’ store in Tuam Street opened on Friday 17th February 1939.
  • Millers’ store in Tuam Street, 1939

    Millers’ store in Tuam Street, 1939

    The business brains of Christchurch gave Leslie Miller six months to stay in operation in this off the beaten track building. Contemporary opinion suggested that to build on the outskirts of the main shopping area was pointless. However as it became recognised that the new Millers store was to offer modern service and merchandise on an unprecedented scale such beliefs proved irrelevant.
  • Millers’ store in Tuam Street, 1939

    Millers’ store in Tuam Street, 1939

    The Tuam St building was notable for its structural design concept of beamless floor slab construction in reinforced concrete where the design loads, including earthquake forces, were transferred to the hexagonal columns by mushroom-shaped heads and drop slabs. This design proved itself worthy during the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes as the building remained strong and standing and was deemed structurally sound with only minimal damage. It was demolished in May 2014 in order to make way for a new bus exchange.
  • Clothing Department,  Tuam Street 1939

    Clothing Department, Tuam Street 1939

    The design layout of the Tuam Street building allowed for maximum spans between columns and therefore added to the spacious internal appearance. There were approximately 10,000 yards (9,145m) of concrete in the building and 740 tons of steel. The engineer at the time calculated that if the steel reinforcing rods were placed end to end in a straight line, they would stretch a distance of 220miles (350kms). The total floor space combined provided approximately 3 ¾ acres of floor space.
  • Flagship store

    Flagship store

    The ground and first floors were originally devoted to retail and office departments, the second and third to manufacturing and the fourth floor and the roof to recreational purposes for the staff.
  • Staff Recreation Area, Tuam Street 1939

    Staff Recreation Area, Tuam Street 1939

    Millers’ claimed to have the most modern factory in New Zealand at the time, and was a leader in catering for staff well-being. Attention was paid to lighting for the machinists, and to air conditioning the building which was guaranteed to “provide air as fresh as one could find in the mountains”. Millers also cultivated a respectful, skillful and manageable workforce in both the retail and the factory staff by offering paternalistic benefits, including workers’ social programmes and recreational facilities. Employees were able to work and play under the one roof with ¾’s of an acre of space in the building being dedicated to staff recreation needs, including a cafeteria, staff dining room and a variety of indoor games. Among the games provided, space was allocated for quoit hockey, indoor bowls, ping pong, deck tennis, deck quoits and basketball. Staff tennis courts were also provided for on the roof.
  • The Dispensary, Tuam Street 1939

    The Dispensary, Tuam Street 1939

    Millers were equipped with a first-aid room, where a trained nurse was in attendance to render assistance in the case of an injury. This was a particularly unique provision for staff in the 1930s – the only other place in Christchurch offering first aid services for staff was the St John’s Ambulance Headquarters. Working conditions such as these were relatively rare in the country at the time.
  • Main objective for Millers

    Main objective for Millers

    Leslie’s main objective for Millers was “to serve the public to the best advantage by the use of every modern facility for the economical production and distribution of goods.” This involved not only the use of the most up-to-date machinery, but also the provision of the very best working conditions for employees and comfort for the public in the retail departments.
  • The Grand Conception

    The Grand Conception

    Millers store was modelled on a grand conception, the emphasis being to provide modern convenience for the customer. There were no signs of lavish ostentation or super luxury favoured by other department stores at the time. Rather, Millers hoped to blend “practical utility, restfulness and pleasing effect” to provide the customer with ease of movement to inspect the goods on display.
  • Opening of the First Escalator in the South Island

    Opening of the First Escalator in the South Island

    A special feature of the Tuam St building was the installation of an escalator which was the first in the South Island and the longest in New Zealand at the time. It operated between the ground and the first floor, and was capable of transferring over 6000 people per hour.
  • Opening of the First Escalator

    Opening of the First Escalator

    It was designed by Messrs Carl Flohr and Co. of Berlin, constructed in England by a British firm and installed by the Christchurch contractors. The public interest in the escalator undoubtedly attracted a lot of customers. Initially when Millers first opened 90% of people came to see the escalator and the other 10% were buying, this however soon changed.
  • Milk Bar, Tuam Street 1939

    Milk Bar, Tuam Street 1939

    Another main draw card to the store was the Tea Lounge and Milk Bar. The Milk Bar was the most modern available in New Zealand in 1939 and the first Milk Bar in Christchurch. It used the very latest type of plant for facilitating quick service, under hygienic conditions.
  • The Tea Lounge

    The Tea Lounge

    Above the Milk Bar was the Tea Lounge – an 8ft (2.5m) wide gallery extending along the whole front of the building providing a good view of the ground floor and the street traffic below.
  • Tuam Street Sewing Room, 1939

    Tuam Street Sewing Room, 1939

    The manufacturing department of Millers was a combination of organisation and modern equipment which justified their claim that Millers’ was the foremost Soft Goods Factory in NZ in 1939. Due attention was given to the design and layout of the manufacturing department to ensure the many lines manufactured were done in such a way to ensure the utmost economy in production, and at the same time providing the best working conditions for the staff. Only the most modern type of machines was used – there was not a machine in use in 1939 which was more than 3 years old. A high degree of efficiency was attained in the factory which had an average weekly production rate of 25,000 garments.

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