Sydney can be a little baffling at times in terms of its architecture. On one hand there’s the Opera House, Harbour Bridge (affectionately dubbed the Coat Hanger by locals), and sandy beaches then on the other you have a sprawl without much soul.
There are some remnants of pre-war architecture that still stand today but so much of the Sydney boom came about from the 50s onwards resulting in drab concrete monoliths making emo kids feel right at home.
Thankfully we still have the Strand Arcade. A Victorian style sheltered arcade between Pitt and George streets originally designed by John B. Spencer with by Charles E. Fairfax and built between 1890 and 1892. It’s a character filled space with cedar staircases, beautifully tiled floors, cast iron balusters, timber framed shop fronts and period lifts that have since been updated.
It’s gone through a refurbishment, a fire, and a sympathetic reconstruction to be what it is today, home to many boutique stores many of them owner operated in tiny spaces that wouldn’t be out of home in Tokyo. Light pours in from the ceiling making this a welcome space in any weather.
Most of the foot traffic is reserved for the first floor but venture upstairs and many interesting ateliers await such as Andrew McDonald shoes and proper fashion heavyweights such as Akira Isogawa. This is a place where you take your time and admire the craftsmanship of products on offer even though you may not be buying. Often you’ll find owners creating or mending products right in front of you.
The basement is reserved for yet another JBHIFI, sitting somewhat at odds with the beautifully kept stores above ground. Despite this, I’d imagine it would be an important tenant as it does bring in plenty of business for those wanting the latest tech gear.
However it’s the care and attention to those independent business shop fronts which makes the place feel special, almost as if in agreement, written or otherwise, a certain standard must be upheld.
Coffee is best served by Gumption, and best matched with chocolate from Koko Black although there are other cafes and restaurants on offer.
Thankfully the Strand Arcade is heritage listed. There really is not much like it in Sydney (the more expansive QVB nearby comes close) and shows what small retail spaces in beautifully designed buildings can do for business and tourism.
With the astronomical cost of rent in high foot traffic areas destroying margins it’s no wonder the likes of H&M, Uniqlo, and Top Shop are the only ones who can afford to be there. Tiny spaces allow for independents to come in and offer something different, something unique.
Sitting on one side of the Strand Arcade is Pitt Street, a shopping area dedicated to the big name brands which has lost quite a bit of its lure over the years playing host to buskers and homeless.
On the other side, George street will soon hear the sounds of trams and foot traffic again after being home to vehicles for decades. The ease of getting to the Strand Arcade will only get easier. If you’re in Sydney, make sure you spend some time here.