The old guy is still there. You wander down Auckland’s Queen Street and in that short strip between Durham Lane East and Victoria Street, if you look up at number 192, you’ll see the crest with the initials “LE” above you. It’s a grand building and one of a shrinking number of pre-1960s buildings in a commercial mile that – since Lewis Eady built his showroom and retail outlet there in the late 1920s – has been demolished and redeveloped many times, each time with reducing aesthetic and visual returns, over the years.
In the middle decades of last century, that short stretch of footpath was named the busiest in Auckland, perhaps the whole country. It is easy to see why: Lewis Eady’s five-storey building (it was extended to seven in 2000) was sandwiched between the booksellers Whitcombe & Tombs (later Whitcoulls) and the John Court’s department store. Number 192 was home to literally everything musical, and a magnet to musicians and fans on late opening Friday nights when some of the city’s top musicians could be found performing there in the hours before they took the crowds (and shop staff) with them to their club dates around the city.
Then, almost overnight, after almost 70 years in Queen Street, Lewis Eady (or just Eady’s as everyone knew it forever) was gone. As a company and a store, it still exists in the suburbs and lays claim to being the oldest family-run business in Australasia, but it would never return to the golden mile.
Lewis Roberts Eady arrived in New Zealand from London on 24 August 1864, with his parents and his brothers on the Glasgow-registered clipper Andrew Jackson. It was the older brother, Arthur, who first started in the music business in Auckland, and he encouraged Lewis, a bassist, to start a piano business of his own. Thus, in 1880 (sources often say 1884 but a then-contemporary business card was found recently with an 1880 date), Lewis Eady and his wife Rosina Eliza Thompson opened for business in their home on the corner of Mill Lane and City Road (near Symonds Street, a house demolished when the Sheraton Hotel carpark was constructed). They began importing, selling and repairing pianos under Lewis’s name then, from 1906, as Lewis R. Eady and Son, when their eldest son Lewis Alfred (known as Alfred) joined the family business. (The company Lewis R. Eady and Son Ltd wasn’t registered until 1917.) In December 1928, despite opposition from both Arthur and Kenneth Eady, this changed to Lewis Eady Ltd to encourage the public to refer to it as Lewis Eady’s, because the firm felt that people were confused by the variety of standalone Eady companies in the music business in Auckland’s inner city at the time.
The first standalone shop opened in nearby Liverpool Street in 1910 and moved to a two-storeyed premises at 15 (now 75) Karangahape Road in 1912. In 1918, with L.R. Eady’s impending retirement, Lewis Alfred became managing director, and in February 1919 the firm moved its main store from K Rd to a two-storey former warehouse at 162 Queen Street, in the block between Vulcan Lane and Durham Lane, opposite His Majesty’s Theatre (the K Rd store remained open until 1931 when the Great Depression forced it to be closed). The front showroom on the ground floor of the new premises was used solely for pianos and organs with the expanding interests of the firm taking up the rest of the space.
Finally, at least for the inner city, in April 1928 Lewis Eady’s store moved to a purpose-built shop, on the site of what had been The Hippodrome Theatre at numbers 190-192 (now 192-196). Designed by D. G. Plumley and financed by a £40,000 mortgage from the Public Trust, the rear of the building (which went through to High Street) incorporated some of the structure of the earlier theatre but was completely new from the second floor up. There it would stay for 52 years; during which it dominated Queen Street’s music retail, selling instruments (and buying them back), record players of every description (including, from the 1920s, locally made machines) sheet music and records (starting in the era of 78rpm).
The new store hosted a concert hall which seated 350 in the main hall and 50 on the balconies. A centre for the city's live music for many years, it also held listening sessions of the new record releases each month (weekly in the late 1920s before the Great Depression hit). The hall could also be hired as a ballroom. The store had, for three years, its own radio station: 1ZR broadcast to the city from 31 December 1930, with names that would soon be nationally famous, such as Uncle Scrim, Aunt Daisy, and Uncle Tom. It also organised music schools for almost every instrument it sold. Broadcasting initially with 100 watts of power, increasing to 250 in 1931, it was eventually purchased by the government in September 1933 as part of their move to put all independent broadcasters under state control, and then shut down in December.
Eady’s store also offered a record transcription service, Speak-O-Phone, whereby people could make a recording and walk out of the shop with a freshly cut one-off aluminium disc of their performance, be it musical or a birthday message for Mum. This service was so popular it has somehow translated over the years to claims that Eady’s once pressed records (the first record presses in New Zealand were HMV’s in Wellington in March 1949).
For decades the box office on the ground floor was the primary ticket outlet in the city, with queues into the street for hot shows and films (Eady’s was advertising “all talking musical” movies as early as mid-1929). This doubtless added to the density of traffic on the footpath and the claim that it was the busiest footpath in Auckland. This service of Eady’s was so important to Auckland and to the company that the firm’s advertising included “The Box Office” as a subtitle. It closed in July 1965, when manageress Freida Dickens moved to His Majesty’s box office, where she continued to sell tickets to the city’s shows until 1976. The box office business was then sold to John Courts Ltd., on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets.
For many years, Lewis Eady’s also operated a private chamber music theatre at 57 High Street as well as the bigger theatre.
In the mid-1960s, in partnership with the Top 20 club (in Durham Lane West), the store launched an annual drum contest called the Premier Drum Award, hosted at the club with Eady’s providing the prizes, although the NZ Herald noted in 1967 that they had to prohibit previous winners from entering to encourage new talent and prevent the city’s drum stars from winning each year.
The company was the New Zealand agent for Steinway pianos (it still is) as well as Chappell, Brinsmead, Bechstein, Knight and Danneman pianos. It donated a Chappell concert piano to the Auckland Town Hall in the 1930s, replacing it – again free of charge – in 1963 with a British Danemann concert grand. The new Ellen Melville Hall in High Street also received a piano when it opened in 1962 (and, continuing a tradition, in 2005 the firm gifted a baby grand piano to Auckland City Libraries, an institution that hosted an Eady-sponsored music section for decades). When most children learned an instrument at home or at school, the name Eady was Auckland’s go-to when you needed to buy one, often via their easy credit terms, with further agencies for Premier and Slingerland drums and one of New Zealand’s biggest range of guitars.
Lewis Eady’s hosted musical clinics with visiting musicians and these were popular, with the 1975 Mike Nock clinic filling the store as local musicians queued to see the returning keyboard hero, a former local rock’n’roller who was by then a major global jazz name.
All of this added to the aura of the business. Still, primarily Lewis Eady Ltd was important because of what it sold: everything – and everything was sold to the customer by staff who not only knew their stuff but were often working musicians in the hours after the store shut in the evenings and weekends. Famous musicians such as drummer Frank Gibson and, later, his son Frank Gibson Jr, both played in the store on Friday nights, as did Mike Perjanik, Julian Lee and many others.
The family name dominated Auckland’s commercial strip: there were four Eady stores in Queen Street in the 1930s, related by blood but not by company, with Sydney Eady (Lewis Alfred’s brother) going out on his own that year to join his sibling, his cousin Kenneth and the business created by his uncle Arthur (who had passed away in 1929 but was thereafter run by his sons until it was sold to Beggs in 1938). You could walk Queen Street from Swanson Street (Sydney) up to the corner of Vulcan Lane (Arthur) and then to 192 (Lewis), each of which was a multi-storied emporium. Up the hill, Kenneth Eady Ltd was in upper Queen Street (next to the Baptist Tabernacle) (Kenneth went out of business in the mid-1930s, a victim of the depression, but in 1938 reopened under a new company in St. Kevin’s Arcade in Karangahape Rd.)
Eady’s was the first store in the city to stock television sets, selling them from the late 1950s in anticipation of the arrival of the broadcast medium in 1960 – and it had an era-defining record department.
The record department opened in 162 Queen Street in 1919. The company created a Gramophone and Record Department on the first floor, having purchased the established music retailer and importer Walker’s Phoneries and Talkeries (formerly at 340 and then 302 Queen Street). The New Zealand Herald said that “besides dealing with all grades of modern talking machines, it holds one of the largest stocks of records in the whole of this Dominion. These are arranged and indexed by an efficient system, so that the operators may expeditiously set their hands on any record required. A feature of this department is the system of sound-proof rooms, of which there are three, for the choosing of machines and records.” The Talkeries deal fell over in the early 1920s but the record retailing division survived and a Mr. Walker managed the department for his new employers for some years afterwards.
In 1920, Lewis Eady was advertising a Record Service, which claimed:
OUR SPACIOUS GRAMOPHONE DEPARTMENT is fully equipped to meet every public demand. We sell Columbia Grafonolas and Columbia and other Records. We recommend to notice the latest Editrola Gramophone. It’s superb!
The other record labels included Edison (US), HMV (UK), Regal (UK), Pathé (French) and Zonophone (UK & US), which meant Eady’s stocked or had access to an estimated 80% of the records then being released globally, something nobody else in the Auckland region came close to. They retained this level of access and depth of catalogue until they closed with only the record specialists Marbecks (in Queen’s Arcade from 1934) matching their range until the HMV monopoly broke down in the 1950s.
In 1928, the company opened a record exchange service, advertising:
We have Solved the Problem of what to do with old records. Here is still another service, too! We have established a Record Exchange through which customers may buy all the very latest new records and receive an allowance on their old records of 1/ for 12in. records and 8d for 10in. records. Only one old record may be exchanged for each new one.
The move to 192 Queen Street saw the record department promoted from the first floor to the ground floor. The Sun newspaper profiled the new shop on 14 March 1928:
The imposing entrance through the shop front leads directly into a lofty and impressive hall, in which is sold sheet music, radio, gramophones and records.
On the left is the theatre’s box office, and occupying the centre of the background a handsome double-flight stairway, leading onto the mezzanine floor. Here is the specially-constructed salon for pianos and player-pianos, while galleries lead along to the firm’s offices.
The record department was to stay there for the next five decades. You could argue that by the time it entered the 1960s and 1970s, it had an aura of having been there for a very long time. The only interruption came when the new LP format arrived in the 1950s, replacing the 78s. For some forgotten reason, they were sold upstairs for a few years, whilst the 45s and EPs were stocked downstairs.
At the same time the formats changed, a new genre also rocked the industry: rock ’n’ roll. Eady’s embraced the popular style although it was not without its vocal critics. In January 1958 a Mr James Stenberg opened the annual teachers’ conference at the Lewis Eady Hall, telling music teachers:
“One painless method of reducing overseas spending might be to ask the Government to stop imports of the more raucous, cacophonous and inane pop records. You might also suggest to the broadcasting service that they use fewer of such records.”
He continued, “This would purify the air and give encouragement to our local talent, which surely could not be any worse.” (Christchurch Press)
Despite this, the late 1950s and the 1960s were boom times for the local industry, with the new music arriving on a variety of newly available US and UK labels, often via young independent local companies including Viking, Prestige, Festival and Allied International. They actively sourced new catalogue from abroad, and there was a growing market for New Zealand music with local stars such as the Howard Morrison Quartet, Peter Posa and Johnny Devlin selling thousands of copies of their hit records. There were now four local pressing plants (three in Wellington, one of which moved to Waihi in 1962, and one in Auckland) and a seemingly insatiable market for all genres of music, which exploded even more when four young men from Liverpool arrived in New Zealand in 1964 (read Chris Bourke’s The Beatles and New Zealand music).
Lewis Eady catered for it all and the store’s bins embraced all genres and styles, with classical pianist Glenn Gould on the shelves next to the Woodstock soundtrack. The store’s catalogue also benefited from Eady’s access to one of the very rare import licences, in those straightened times when it was illegal to import goods either as a business or privately without the hard-to-get permission. Eady’s, however, because their business relied heavily on imported goods, was an exception and offered a limited ordering system for records.
Out of Queen Street, into the future
The 1960s saw some changes in the Eady business. In 1960, the firm sold the Queen Street store (to lessen the tax impact as members of the first and second generations of the family passed) to the Manchester Unity Trust, with a 15-year lease and another 15-year option taking the lease through to 1990, which was exercised in 1975. At some cost during the decade, the building was upgraded substantially to satisfy council regulations and other requirements.
As the 1970s progressed, Auckland City and Queen Street became less of a destination for shoppers and families as new malls opened in the suburbs. Parking also became harder and specialist music stores opened in the CBD and in easily accessible places such as Greenlane and Manukau Road. Saturday trading in the suburbs destroyed the institution that was Friday night trading and with it went much of the profit from city retail. In response to the record shops, Eady's briefly opened a discount store in Victoria Street, and, in 1978, a second music instruments store in Remuera.
The building changed ownership again in the 1970s, to investor D.C. (Carrick) Belton's consortium, but disaster struck in Ma1976 when a lift upgrade error caused massive flooding and damage, the cost of which, and the legal costs that came with it, hit the company hard
The lure of these suburbs and the land value of the Queen Street store made the end inevitable Queen and in June 1980 the decision was made to move the historic music trader from 192 Queen Street to new, cost-efficient premises at 12 Commerce St. With another decade to run on the lease, Queen Street was to be redeveloped as The Lewis Eady Mall (Lewis Eady held the head lease on this until March 1988). The final day of Queen Street trading was 26 September 1980 and with the shift, the business shuttered the record, radio, TV and Hi-Fi departments forever, concentrating thereafter on music instrument retail. The wheel had turned full circle to the business Lewis Roberts Eady had created a century earlier.
Tenants in the mall included Stanley’s nightclub, occupying one of the upper floors. The old theatre could, for many years, be seen by entering World’s fashion retail showroom off Little High Street.
In February 1991, Lewis Eady Ltd moved further out of the city to 12-15 Davis Crescent, Newmarket, where it stayed until a shift to temporary premises in 277 Newmarket in August 2000 while it awaited the renovation of its new purpose rebuilt (and owned) premises (and current home) at 75 Great South Road, south of Newmarket. That opened on 3 January 2001.
The descendants of Lewis Roberts Eady still manage the business, with John Eady Snr taking over from his father in 1965, and his son, the current manager, John Eady Jnr, L.R.’s great-grandson, buying the business from his father in 2006. Until 2019, it was fully owned by the family.
Regardless of the current ownership, it’s impossible to imagine Auckland musically and culturally over the past century and a half without the Eady name – that symbiotic relationship between the 21st-century city and the legacy of a young man’s idea for a business just off Queen Street in 1880 seems likely to endure.
Many thanks to A K (Kay) Eady for her 2023 book Preludes & Feuds – The Lewis Eady Story, published by David Ling Publishing, which allowed us to update this story and add detail.
Read more on AudioCulture: Lewis Eady memories