Is Rangiora's commercial hub being throttled by cordons? PHILIP MATTHEWS visits a community which has had enough of barriers, containers and fences.
Christchurch has come to Rangiora. But not in the ways you would expect.
The front window of the Rangiora Town Hall building on the corner of High and King sts acts as a kind of time capsule. How long has this domed and exuberantly painted building been off-limits?
In the window, a movie poster promises that the animated film Puss in Boots is "now showing" at the Regent Theatre upstairs. But that movie came out in December, 2011. There is a handwritten note taped to the glass, which says that management hopes the building will be open soon and wishing locals a happy Christmas and New Year.
That was nearly eight months ago. And it remains shut.
Diagonally opposite, the historic John Knox Presbyterian Church - built in 1922 - is closed as well, surrounded by wire fencing, also considered an earthquake risk. That closed to the public only a month ago. Just weeks earlier, the St Mary and Francis de Sales Church in Victoria St was closed by the town's Catholic parish.
More striking changes come as you move further along High St, towards Rangiora's retail heart. Six pop-up stores were opened here at the end of June.
Less stylised than Christchurch's Re:Start, the beige temporary structures resemble primary school prefabs. Some block the view of the Waimakariri District Council building and occupy its lawn. They were built with $200,000 granted by the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust.
Of the six pop-up stores, five are tenanted.
Move further along. Farmers, which has been the anchor store of Rangiora's High St for decades, has been out of action since early March. It, too, is fenced off and faces a dull wall of shipping containers on the other side of the street. The few shops still open near Farmers are quiet, and this end of High St is almost deserted on a cold week-day morning during the school holidays.
Head further east. A few more shops are closed, and some have moved to new spaces: a travel agent, a clothing store, a dentist, a pharmacist. The Pulley's Buildings, from 1923, were closed in March and are fenced off. As is a nearby pub, Robbie's Bar and Bistro, which has been shut since January.
And where is everybody? If you get off High St, you find crowds at the supermarket. Again, it is a cold morning. But there is no doubt that the closure of Farmers and other stores has been a killer for at least the west end of High St.
"A town with a dead heart is a dead town," says Waimakariri mayor David Ayers, explaining the campaign.How to keep locals from driving south to shop at Christchurch malls instead? One response has been a "let's shop local" campaign, launched by the Waimakariri District Council: you see the signage up and down High St, and on the outskirts of town.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. In the months after the February 2011 quake, with Christchurch's CBD cordoned off and some of its malls closed, and nearby Kaiapoi still stunned by the September 2010 quake, Rangiora boomed.
"Rangiora was doing very well," Ayers agrees. "It was very busy. A lot of people were coming out to Rangiora just to do their shopping. After the February quake, it was crazy."
It eased off a little as Christchurch got back on its feet, but there was still a good chunk of people discovering the town's retail strip for the first time and liking it.
"A lot of people came out after February and thought, this isn't a bad place to shop, actually," Ayers says. "But that's been killed by the fences. The women in the town sometimes joke that there's a knicker crisis. They used to go to Farmers for the small things. Postie Plus is closed, too, because it's in the fall zone.
"The only place you can buy knickers at the moment apparently is The Warehouse. Some people don't think they're good enough so they have to go into Christchurch. I'm only quoting what I'm told."
The great Rangiora knicker crisis of 2012 is only one side-effect of the Canterbury quakes. Ayers is keen to bring Kaiapoi into the discussion: despite the obvious council responses to Rangiora's problems, Kaiapoi is still the worst-hit town in the Waimakariri district.
There are 20 to 30 shops in Kaiapoi that have either gone or will go, Ayers says. If the centre of Rangiora looks quiet on a week- day morning in winter, the centre of Kaiapoi is positively bleak.
"I think the retail centre there suffers from closer proximity to Christchurch," Ayers says. "Also, a higher proportion of the Kaiapoi workforce works south of the Waimakariri River compared to Rangiora. It's easier for that workforce to shop on the way home.