A Tale of Two Countdowns

Napier’s twin Countdowns across the road from each other: Countdown Napier (Left) and Countdown Carlyle (Right)

Two Countdowns, both alike in vicinity.
In fair Napier, where we lay our scene.
From Russian fudge, break to new Dilmah tea,
Where hand sanitizer on special ensures covid-cautious hands remain clean…

Napier’s two Countdown supermarkets across the road from each other have long been a source of confusion and mirth for out-of-towners.

In the shadow of Napier Hill (literally in winter – it can get bloody cold when the sun is low or its overcast/foggy), on Carlyle Street lies Countdown Carlyle (“Flash Countdown”).

Diagonally across Tennyson Street from Countdown Carlyle and opposite KFC, Burger King and Shell Kennedy Road which, as I have revealed before, isn’t actually on Kennedy Road is the rather more generically-branded “Countdown Napier” (as this one borders several roads – Tennyson, Dickens and Station Streets, it’s just called.. erm.. “Countdown”).

But why are they there?

Many have questioned, but few have been able to adequately answer.

Until now.

Back to parodying Mr Spokeshave to close out this prologue:

The existence of this Countdown mirror-image,
Which, by article’s end, sought to solve,
Is now the traffic of this digital page.

 

Quirky, or Smirky?

Napier’s twin Countdowns are not a unique coexistence – Johnsonville and Upper Hutt in Wellington both apparently have similar set-ups and until recently so did Glenfield on Auckland’s North Shore.

So why do people seem to think Napier is so different or unique?

Maybe it’s because the other two are in big cities?

The bigger population justifies having two supermarkets in closer proximity.

Napier’s population is around 65,000 (Combined with Hastings’ 75,000-plus population the two cities have a combined total of around 140,000, making us NZ’s fifth most populous urban area, just ahead of Tauranga), so perhaps not THAT big.

So maybe it’s just parochialism?

Another excuse for the big city mice to mock their “country hick” cousins?

We have certainly been exposed to more than our fare share of that over the years, be it the “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay” stereotype, or those who insist on adding the prefix “The” to our region’s name.

New Zealand’s rather Auckland-centric television networks creating and airing shows about “quirky” regional New Zealand things probably hasn’t helped, either.

Rather than “Quirky” meaning interesting, they often tend to put more of a sardonic twist on things.

A reasonably well known example is 90s TVNZ series Heartland introducing “Chloe from Wainuiomata” to the country. Negative reactions to the show eventuated in Chloe having to leave Wainuiomata.

She has actually been living here in Napier for the past 13 years, though her preference of Countdown is unknown…

More recently TVNZ’s rival, Mediaworks, attempted a “Heartland-esque” show called “New Zealand Today”.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek host Guy Williams ventured to Napier’s twin Countdowns where he tried, and failed rather miserably, to shed any light on the phenomenon.

Rather sad, really.

Yet another chance to positively promote part of regional New Zealand lost.

All they had to do was ask a local!

A rare photo looking in the opposite direction to the cover pic. This photo was taken looking from Napier Railway Station yards back towards the hill at Easter 1988. The multi story building is NZR offices and train control.
Woolworths can be seen in the back left, and Station Court is far right.  Photo C/o Michael Kemp, Old Napier Facebook page

 

History Lesson

So have there always been two Countdowns in Napier?

No.

Countdown Carlyle has always been a supermarket, but Countdown Napier has always been a Countdown.

Before rebranding as Countdown in the early 2000s, Countdown Carlyle was a Woolworths and then a Big Fresh (complete with singing vegetables and swinging monkey (a la Hayden Donnell’s documentary).

WAY before the supermarket was even there my Dad and Granddad apparently lived in a house on Carlyle Street which was where the supermarket’s car park is now, opposite Dominos, but I digress..

While Countdown Carlyle was a Woolworths, the site of Countdown Napier had several lives in a reasonably short space of time.

Most recently it was a car sales yard and a group of shops called “Station Court”, as it was opposite Napier’s railway station (when we still had one).

Around the same time there was a bus station for Intercity or Newmans Coachlines at Station Court (I can’t remember which – the other had a depot further down Dickens Street in what is now Civic Court across from the currently empty Napier Public Library).

“Station Court” shops, Circa mid-late 1980s on the site Countdown Napier currently occupies. Photo C/o Trevor Cook Old Napier Facebook Page

In the late 80s/ early 90s Station Court was demolished and Countdown Napier was built on its site, with Countdown Carlyle still in its Big Fresh phase.

This is probably where Countdown Carlyle gets its “flash” reputation – If you wanted swanky cheeses, or “more refined” (i.e.. expensive) groceries, you went to Big Fresh (and to push the buttons and make the vegetables sing and the monkey swing – Geez, it must have been tortuous for the staff..).

Whereas, if you wanted cheaper groceries and generic family brands, you went to Countdown Napier (and to buy cheap snacks and lollies to sneak into the cinema across Station Street whose candy counter charged like a wounded bull..).

An important strategic commercial note is that at this time there was a very large area of vacant land opposite Countdown Napier, and behind the newly constructed Reading Cinema. It was abandoned NZ Railway land where Napier’s train station and railway yards had been for many years. But after NZR was filleted, gutted and sold by the governments of the day it lay dormant, as part of a Waitangi settlement, I believe.

Around the year 2000 a deal was struck and the land was sold to Woolworths/Progressive Enterprises’ (Countdown’s owners) arch NZ nemesis, Foodstuffs, who promptly built a rather giant Pak ‘n Save supermarket on it.

Not too long after Progressive went through a massive re-branding exercise and changed all their Foodtown and Big Fresh supermarkets to Countdowns.

So now this is where we find ourselves.

Napier’s twin Countdowns as seen from the Station Street entrance to Napier Pak n Save earlier this year – Roughly the same place as the right hand photo above was taken!

The Truth Shall Make Ye Fret

To put it bluntly: The existence of Napier’s twin Countdowns is purely commercial.

:To put it more technically, according to Reddit user “AGVann”:

“This phenomenon is known as Hotelling’s Law/Game. This video explains the concept excellently. For those that don’t want to watch the video, the short answer is that in industries where goods are essentially the same form and cost, the only difference for consumers is the location – people usually just go to the closest supermarket. If there was only one supermarket in all of Napier, a second strategically placed supermarket from a competitor would immediately cut the ‘catchment’ of potential customers in half. Countdown is essentially competing with itself to ensure that it is never financially viable for a competitor to set up shop in Napier. This is a tactic that Countdown corporate is known for doing over in Australia, so it’s not that surprising to see it here.”

If owners Progressive Enterprises closed one of Napier’s twin Countdowns, their competitors Foodstuffs, with the neighbouring Pak n Save supermarket, would swoop in and probably put a New World on the site, reversing the current 2-1 Countdown/Progressive majority.

While Napier’s public library future is in limbo, I suggested recently that if Progressive could be convinced to sell Countdown Napier’s site to Napier City Council it could make a great location for a new Library. 

The extensive site borders Clive Square on one side and tree-lined Munroe Street, opposite St Patrick’s Church, on the other – very calming and reflective. There is ample, much needed public car parking on site that the council could meter or lease for income and Progressive wouldn’t have to worry about the encroachment of competition.

Fortunately for Napier ratepayers it appears the council is strongly considering returning the library to its former site, once earthquake strengthening is completed – a far cheaper option than turning over a new page and building from scratch..

Unfortunately for television shows making places like Napier look “Quirky” because they’re not as big as Auckland or Wellington, it also means the existence of twin Countdowns isn’t Napier’s fault at all – It’s a corporate move from those same big cities!

Mystery solved – And all it took was a little bit of local knowledge!

Epilogue

A glowing piece, this supermarket article brings

The sun still shines, you can buy bread:

Go forth and spread the truth this blog rings,

Some mystery solved, some cynicism punished 

For never was there a story so profound

Than of Napier and its twin Countdowns!

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Countdowns

  1. Constuctively Andrew, if this blog is to be taken seriously and possibly used for any negotiation there are several statements that need correcting.
    When you finally stated..”…a little bit of local knowledge.” you were a little bit off the mark mate.
    Selwyn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *