The East End of Hastings offers one of everything. I tend to spend a good chunk of every week there. It’s my work/play/eat/drink centre…also there’s a fairly attractive barman in the 200 block who keeps me gravitating back there. 

It’s not the individual shops and stops, but the glue that holds them together as a ‘neighbourhood’ that interests me. What are the ingredients for a good ‘hood? If we get a handle on those, maybe that’s transferable and as a community we can identify, support and encourage the same magic in other blocks.

The matriarch institution in the East End is the health-food grocer Cornucopia. It’s been there the longest (25+ years) and its customers are loyal. It’s the original ‘destination-offering’. Cornucopia is magnetic. People set their course for this mothership and it’s from that anchor point that they explore the rest of the block. 

Businesses around it have grown up to service a similar customer type, so the experience is to come for one thing, but stay because you feel at home in the area. Food and drink offerings that appeal to that kind of person mean their visit lasts longer than a one-stop trip would. 

Ditching the car and walking between the experiences makes for more exploration of the area. That means carparks must be reachable but not clogging agents. The big keystone in all of this is people. Of course! They shop, they eat and drink but also they bring new customers, they advocate and champion; these ‘destinations’ only exist because people seek them out, and then come back, and back again.

On the West Side, the exact mirror at the other end of Heretaunga Street, the mothership is probably something like Farmers. 

But there are clusters of businesses that together offer a very satisfying trip-to-town with multiple stops. For today’s gentleman, Thompson’s Suits, Alexander’s and Griffiths Footwear are all dapper stores that really do give an authentic, classy, genteel experience. While you’re in the zone, Maxim’s is a proper barber, with the cuts, the shaves and the patter. And John’s Bakery is a real pie shop. Surely a shave, a suit and a steak and cheese pie are the perfect ingredients for a real man’s day out. 

On top of that, Hustle and the Rock Shop are up that way so all mid-life crises can be taken care of in one go. One block back (and it’s worth the saunter) is the Organic Butcher and next door an actual antique shop you can easily lose an hour in. Once that circuit is done the average man-about-town will be suited and booted, with a rib rack for dinner and a chaise lounge on hold. 

That all important place to park is sorted too. Or soon will be – the old toy and mower store is going, making way for a laneway linked to a carpark; hidden but handy.

That block has all the elements it needs to become a neighbourhood. It just needs the people who are loyal to it, who see it as a destination, who go out of their way to get amongst it, who head there every other week.

One block further west and the vibe is exotica (and also erotica but that’s a different story). Centre yourself at Bin Inn. It’s a culinary Aladdin’s cave with everything from cous cous and agae agae to tamarind paste and tapioca pearls. Then down a bit is a portal to the Auckland of my childhood in the form of a Pasifika clothing and fabric shop … across the road Moshims, a terrific Asian/Indian grocery … and one block into town the finest Indian eatery this side of the Bombay (that’s the big hill south of Auckland). 

I don’t even want to tell you its name in case I ruin the secret and everyone starts going there, but I’ll give you a hint: it specialises in Indian sweets and snacks.

The elements are all there, what it takes to cement the deal and bring the buzz is you people. Your energy, your loyalty, your money! Character and charm are great, aesthetically they create a backdrop that appeals, but they’re not the living breathing actors that bring the real warmth to the scene. That’s us. We’re the vital bit.

I hang out on the East Side. Those are my people and my places, you should find yours. If you love Hastings, if you chose to live here, or just visit sometimes, seek out the secret corners that feel like home, mooch around, then come back, bring a friend, brag. That’ll bring the life, that makes your block a neighbourhood.

Jess Soutar Barron is a BayBuzz writer and co-owner of Common Room 

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