Industrial lighting, fittings salvaged from old ships and antique European furnishings fill Steve Erickson’s unique Taranaki store
Step inside Steve Erickson’s unique vintage store in Taranaki
In a former galvanising plant a couple of streets back from the beach in New Plymouth, you’ll find the eclectic Vintage Industries. I hesitate to use the word ‘eclectic’, because its overuse has deemed it almost meaningless. But if
I can’t use it to describe Steve Erickson’s coffee shop-cum-vintage-store packed with marine componentry, heritage lighting, taxidermy and antique furniture, when can I?
“It’s a f***ing bizarre business, but it works,” says Steve. “It’s everything that I like and I’m just lucky other people like it.”
What began as an online lighting business has become a store filled with marine lights and fittings, vintage furniture and decor, and a range of taxidermied animals, with a cafe alongside.
“It’s just evolved,” he says of the many aspects which make up his business. “I haven’t slept in four years.”
It all started when Steve, a joiner by trade, decided to import some enamel lightshades made by a family business in China. They appealed to his love of history but, regrettably, he “got his arse kicked in that market”. He switched to importing light fittings from a business in Birmingham in the UK (S. Lilley & Son, which has been producing componentry, initially for the rail industry, for almost 180 years). A recent addition to the store is Jieldé lighting, a French brand founded in 1950. “Everything we bring in has gotta have a bit of history or guts behind it,” Steve says. “A story, I guess.”
He has a passion for marine fittings and, in an unusual arrangement, gets his supply of lights and other accessories direct from the ship-breaking yards of
“It’s a f***ing bizarre business, but it works. It’s everything that I like and I’m just lucky other people like it”
Turkey, Bangladesh and India. This came about after he got ripped off on a lighting order from the US and decided to find his own contact in the industry. “I ended up trawling through emails and saw a phone number for a guy that was my direct lead into the ship-breaking yards – not easy for a westerner.”
If you haven’t seen photos of these yards, it’s backbreaking work. In the searing heat, men with little safety equipment strip all the materials and parts from ships that have reached the end of their lives.
“They call it the most vicious job in the world,” says Steve. There are “a lot of pros and cons in ship breaking. You’ve got the recycling side of it but also some ‘slave-labour’-like conditions. But till you’ve been there and seen how broken Bangladesh actually is – these guys actually have a chance to have quarter of a decent life by bringing in a bit of income.”
Steve works with three men who source parts and broker deals for him (“I’d get killed if I went in by myself”) and makes sure they are well looked after and treated ethically. These days, he does a lot of his sourcing via email as they know what he likes.
With lots of commercial clients, Steve decided to bring in vintage furniture to complement the lighting business. He favours unusual pieces, such as trestle tables once used at Oktoberfest, French farmhouse
windows and Belgian medical trolleys – industrial items that will add an edge to home and commercial fitouts. He regularly travels to Europe to source pieces from Russia, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, France,
Czech Republic, England and Ireland.
“Coming from a joinery background, I’ve got a bit of a love affair with old tables and pieces,” he says. “I’ve always had a thing for stuff with history, ever since I was young. It’s a sickness!”
Enter taxidermy – another of Steve’s many interests, which goes hand in hand with his love of hunting. “It’s all new, done by a fourth-generation taxidermist in New Zealand. It’s the best you can get,” he says of the stuffed rabbits, stag’s heads and more displayed in his store.
He’s also a self-confessed coffee fiend and, having done a number of fitouts for the hospitality industry, decided to include a cafe in his space. “These days you’ve gotta create something special to survive,” he says of being in retail. “It’s gotta be an experience.”
Steve also stocks the clothing brand Just Another Fisherman. “I was brought up in the marine environment. It’s very much in my family,” he says.
(His dad was a commercial fisherman and owns the local dive shop, and Steve has always surfed and spearfished.) “That’s why I live in New Plymouth.”
Working alongside Steve is his wife, Tracey, who deals with the accounts and management side of the business. Six others staff the shop, cafe and an onsite workshop where pieces are restored and lights assembled.
About 95 percent of his stock leaves New Plymouth, most of it destined for commercial fitouts, and much of it is purchased online. “We started as a net-based business and that’s always been our dominant market,” Steve says. Yet he’s also managed to create a one-off shopping destination that’s worth going offline for.
From the source Steve stocks vintage marine fittings, furniture and decor from around the world in his New Plymouth store, Vintage Industries. He travels to India, Bangladesh, Russia, the Netherlands and beyond to find unique pieces that reflect his various passions – marine paraphernalia, vintage joinery, taxidermy, and anything with “a bit of history or guts behind it”.
Family business Steve, Tracey and son Fox (above right) outside their vintage store and cafe housed in a former galvanising plant. All his antique furniture and lighting is restored in-house before being sold, and heritage lights made in Birmingham, in the UK, are also assembled on site.