Doing what they love in Stratford
The saying is ‘do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life,’ and for the couple behind the newly-opened Fenton Street Art Collective, it could almost be a mission statement.
“We’ve set up a number of very successful businesses over the years, but every time we have ended up selling them because we wanted to focus on our art rather than a business.”
Stuart Greenhill says this time it will be different for him and partner Jo Stallard.
“This is going to be our last stop so to speak. The plan is once it is fully going we will be able to let the business run itself while we work in the studio space upstairs.”
The business is based around the things they love, with an espresso bar, an art gallery, a small gin distillery and a boutique art retail area, with the focus for all four areas on quality rather than quantity, says Jo.
“Our coffee and gin will be batch produced, while the art on display and for retail is carefully sourced by us. You won’t find anything mass produced here.”
While the couple opened the doors to the public for the first time last week, the business has been there just under two years.
“We searched New Zealand for an old building. Ironically it was in our home town that something viable turned up. We knew what sort of business we wanted, and we knew we wanted a very specific type of building for it to be in.”
Jo says the old Till Henderson King building on Fenton Street was perfect and they have spent the past two years turning it into the Fenton Street Art Collective.
“It’s got history — it will be 100 years old in two years. We’ve tried to keep as much of the building’s original style as possible on the inside.”
With old safes repurposed into wardrobes and pantries, Jo and Stuart have managed to make use of the quirky space that is both a business and a home.
Downstairs is the espresso bar, which serves two roasts provided by their daughter’s roastery in New Plymouth.
“We have a medium and a dark roast on offer, but eventually we will be roasting our own beans here,” says Stuart. They will be small batches, and change frequently.
Once a liquor licence is acquired, batches of gin will also be distilled on the premises.
“We will be pairing the gins with a range of tonics, platters and desserts. People will be able to book in for a Friday night to also enjoy wine and craft beer, surrounded by art.”
The gallery meanwhile has the first of what will be many exhibitions and Jo says she already has several artists lined up for the future.
“During the garden festival we have work from Jenny Coker going on display. She is an international artist based in Tauranga who paints gorgeous botanical watercolours.”
Jo herself has much of her art on the walls of her studio upstairs, while Stuart uses part of the upstairs space for writing. His first novel, based partly in Stratford, is currently in negotiation with a London publisher and he is working with a Wellington-based photographer on a book of poetry.
Jo and Stuart aren’t the first artists or writers to make Stratford their home, and the town’s history of creatives is something they wanted to acknowledge somehow, says Stuart.
“Stratford is much more than just a service town. It has been home to some great talent through the years, and still is. Stratford writers took out the
30-year anniversary of Ronald Hugh Morrieson Awards last year, winning the short story and poetry sections. We have recognised this creative history by putting the names of some talented people on the stairs leading up to our apartment and studio space.”
In a nod to the building’s construction, the couple commissioned a New Plymouth artist to create poster-style paintings, in the style of the
1920s, advertising tourist attractions in the area.
“We want people to stop off here when they are in Stratford and not just have a coffee, or see some art, but to be inspired to explore more of the area as well.”
■ Fenton Street Art Collective: Fenton Street. Open 8am — 3pm, Monday to Thursday and Saturday. Friday: open until late once liquor licence in place, Sundays: open 9am — 3pm.
Jo Stallard and Stuart Greenhill in the building’s green space.
Amelia Lett is the manager of the espresso bar.
Some of the creatives who have made Stratford their home in the past have their names on the stairs in the building.