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Wharf couple into new building boots and all

They’ve put their heart and soul into various projects at Raglan wharf over the years, and now local couple Rob Galloway and Marie de Jong are stepping into a new venture there with a leather goods workshop-cum-retail outlet in the new $1.9 million wharf building.

In November their long-lived leather business Soul Shoes will abandon its Bow Street site and reopen in two interconnected shops occupying a prime corner of the wharf building — premises whose rents, Rob says, are now “comparable” to those in the town centre.

Rob and Marie live at the wharf in the historic cement silos, barely a stone’s throw from where their business will soon be relocated. They made leather shoes from the ground floor of the silos for several years but then built for themselves a stylish first-floor apartment in the taller of the two towers.
They’ve also created three luxury holiday-let apartments within the silos complex.

Topping off their wharf involvement Rob’s built two oceangoing yachts there, the latest a 50-footer sitting directly beneath their apartment as it awaits launching.
But right now it’s sale time at Soul Shoes in Bow Street where all surplus stock has to go, leaving just the handcrafted leather goods that have given the business its name. “We’ll be concentrating on what we make ourselves,” Rob explains of their new industrial-style workshop at the wharf.

Retail-wise, that will include however the latest works of Rob’s sister Jane Galloway — a highly regarded Raglan artist whose paintings often feature in the Bow Street shop window — and son Ben’s Trash Footwear products made from recycled materials.

Wahinemoe cruise boat operator Charlie Young has also been talking to Rob, and says he’s likely too to have a sales presence in the shop.
Rob started out making shoes back in the ‘70s in Whangamata, then moved to Hamilton and — 30 years ago — on to Raglan where leather accessories were added to the name.“We’re probably one of the longest-surviving businesses in Raglan,” he reflects.

The couple figure they can do quite well at the wharf — even without the advantage of having two frontages in the busy southeastern corner of the building — because the business has become a destination in itself and is no longer so reliant on passing traffic.
“And a lot of selling is through the website,” Rob adds.

They first thought of shifting shop a couple of years ago when the rebuild was being talked about after the disastrous wharf fire, but admit they’ve only got around to negotiating the tenancy of the two premises in the past few weeks.

And it’s been a “pretty easy” process, says Rob, with Waikato District Council ready to negotiate as reported in last week’s Chronicle.
“We’ve found the council very helpful and keen to rent spaces,” he confirmed.

They’re looking forward now to the possibility of an artisan studio gallery and indoor market taking up one other tenancy available, and hope a retail workshop like their own or that of nearby Tony Sly Pottery might eventually occupy the last two of the seven spaces up for rent.

Developing an “arty” kind of community down there, say the pair, would be good for business and bring back the wharf’s buzz.

Edith Symes

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