You won’t find a city shopping experience with more charm, class and elegance than the Brisbane Arcade.
This heritage-listed gallery of unique retail stores in Brisbane’s CBD is home to designers and ateliers of renown. Meet the characters of Brisbane Arcade…
In an age of smart tablets and phones, there’s one ‘digital’ device that continues to stand the test of time. It’s the one you hold with your very own digits – or fingers, to be more precise… the humble pen.
And Brisbane’s doyenne of pens, pencils and penmanship is Barbara Nichol of The Pen Shoppe in Brisbane Arcade.
From childhood, Barbara has been fascinated by pens, paper and writing. She always wanted to open her own stationery shop and meeting her husband with the same dream was a beautiful stroke of fate.
It was a chance discovery of a book about handwriting in the Renaissance led Barbara to purse her interest in classic penmanship.
In 1980, she spent time in London on a Churchill Fellowship, studying with calligraphers; teaching children with disability how to write; and being tutored at Scotland Yard in the forensic examination of forgery.
To this day, she prepares legal reports in cases involving handwriting fraud. Plus, she continues to teach the art of penmanship and calligraphy to this day.
The Pen Shoppe has been a mainstay of Brisbane Arcade for decades – and Barbara likens herself and her staff as heads of an orphanage where pens are on show until they are united with their new ‘parents’ or owners.
“And we keep their little faces all shined up and the clips shiny – and people come in, they look and fall in love with one.”
Pens at the shop come in all shapes, types and value… from a few dollars to diamond-studded pens in excess of a million dollars.
Drop into the shop and Barbara may be able to coach you on improving your handwriting – plus you can see her in-store pen ‘museum’ with writing equipment dating from the 1870’s through to the modern day.
Favourite pens can also be repaired or restored at the store’s workshop in the arcade.
You could say brother and sister duo, James and Hannah, grew up in a jewellery store and then went to work there.
The pair are the proud children of Robert White – whose eponymous store in the Brisbane Arcade is the longest standing tenant of the arcade, operating for more 47 years in the same location.
The late Robert White started his jewellery store in 1974 – the week of the notorious Brisbane floods, no less.
“A baptism by flood, instead of fire!”, says James.
Despite the damp start, Robert White Jewellers went on to big things in Brisbane – and when their Dad passed away, his children took over the business.
Hannah and James describe their chic, elegant, high-end jewellery store as ‘home’, having attended work with their father as children.
In fact, there was one memorable moment when a very young James innocently pressed a ‘duress’ button in the store – bringing police rushing to the arcade in response to a suspected jewel robbery.
These days, Hannah is the resident diamond and precious stone grader of the team – while James brings his considerable design talent to sourcing unique stones and creating bespoke jewellery pieces for clients.
“If we’re here for another 40 years, I’d be over the moon,” admits Hannah.
“That would be lovely to see our business thrive for another 40 and pass it on to our children.
“Jewellery’s definitely in our blood.”
Julie Tengdahl’s grandmother and mother were seamstresses – so it was a safe bet that she would pick up a needle and thimble herself at some stage.
“There’s always been that thread of creativity in the family,” says Julie, who took that generational talent and turned it into a wildly successful fashion label of her own.
Tengdahl is yet another long-standing store in the Brisbane Arcade. The boutique has been there for 40 years and, in fact, Julie remembers working at Brisbane Arcade in her first job as a junior.
“I’ve been walking through this arcade since I was 16… and it still gives me goosebumps.”
Julie describes her ethos as ‘slow fashion’ – an alternative to the fast and frenzied ‘throwaway’ fashion industry of recent decades.
Sustainability and longevity of her designs is important to her – as is having inner integrity and a genuine commitment to actually helping others.
“So that’s always been the base of my purpose. Fashion has been my creative journey to help women shine.”
While Tengdahl boutique is on the ground floor of the arcade, the label’s busy workshop sits on an upper floor, overlooking Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall.
“I feel like it’s the heart-beat of Brisbane.”
Brisbane Arcade is, indeed, in the heart of the city – off Queen Street Mall.