Adapted from a publication by Lisa J Truttman
The 3 Guys Site
Albert Gubay was born in 1928 in Rhyl, Northern Wales, from an Irish mother and a Jewish emigrant father from Baghdad.
According to his obituary, his business was struggling in the mid-1950s, and with worries as far as supporting his wife and two children were concerned, Gubay apparently made a pact with God, he said in a later interview. “Lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon, I said, ‘God, where’s the next penny going to come from? God, please help me — and whatever I make, when I pass on, half will go to you.’ And that was it: I was at peace with the world.” Most of his fortune wound up being given away, in his lifetime and after he died in early 2016.
By 1967, Gubay had opened up a chain of Kwik Save Discount stores in Britain, following a world trend from just after WWII. Retailing was stripped to basics. Basic stores, basic fittings, often using adapted older buildings. By January 1973, he left Great Britain to live in New Zealand for a time.
The origin of “3 Guys” as a name is uncertain. The press thought it was Gubay himself and two relatives, but a study in 1998 found that Gubay was fascinated with an American discount retailer named “Two Guys from Harrison.” He left New Zealand permanently in April 1974. His New Zealand companies were sold in 1984.
The first Auckland store opened in Mangere in January 1973, followed by Papatoetoe, Mt Eden, Northcote, and Glen Eden. It’s said that he wanted to open a store in Green Bay, but local opposition changed his mind and he opted for Avondale instead; his Lynley Buildings Ltd owned the Avondale land, more or less, from August 1973.
I remember in Standard 4 at Avondale Primary in 1974 when the teacher brought up that Mr Albert Gubay was going to build a supermarket in our suburb and had us write letters of welcome to him as a class project. The supermarket here in Avondale was completed in September 1975. The development proved controversial from the start, because instead of the open-to-the-main-road view of the supermarket we had been expecting, a blank wall was to be the frontage to Great North Road right through to the building’s demolition in 1997.
Then there were the issues with Auckland City Council and the zoning of the property. When Lynley Buildings Ltd purchased the site, it was with the intention of building a full-sized supermarket as part of the standard size specifications of the chain and extending parking over what is today the state housing units, next door to the former Suburbs Rugby Football clubrooms. However, only part of the land, nearest Great North Road, was zoned as C3, commercial use. The rest was zoned R4, residential, with restrictions in terms of parking use and capacity. The company claimed that it thought the land could be used for parking when it was purchased. The Council stuck to their guns, and pointed out the zoning. So, the supermarket in Avondale was built 40 feet smaller than others in the chain, to provide more parking space at the rear. An application for a further 4800 square feet addition was also refused by the Council. The Council considered making an offer at the time to purchase the disputed land for parking purposes, but the offering price meant that idea had to be abandoned. That area, in Lynley Building’s plans as presented before later appeal hearings, was intended for the site of a tavern, operated by the Portage Licensing Trust, as part of a broader development of the block between the supermarket and the rugby club buildings. However, the Trust found themselves unable or unwilling to commit to such a development.
The former vehicle entrance off Great North Road was closed and became a covered mini-arcade just beside the supermarket. I recall a laundry there, a furniture shop, and other uses. But the land between the sealed carpark and the rugby clubrooms was left to the weeds, the houses that once existed there, the former horse paddocks, shed and garages, long since removed in the 1970s, in the expectation of full-on commercial development. The supermarket was never able to expand to regain that lost square footage. In 1988, the property was passed on to 3 Guys Property Ltd. The supermarket and arcade continued for a while but was finally closed on 27 June 1997. General Distributors Ltd (for Progressive Enterprises) merged with 3 Guys Property Ltd in August 1997, and the supermarket and arcade was demolished by the end of that year.
The property was transferred to Morning Star Enterprises Limited (a property arm of architect and developer Arthur Mortenstern), and subdivided. The surplus land was sold to Housing New Zealand in March 1998, and 36 units were built there.
The 3 Guys brand in Auckland, which had been taken over by Progressive Enterprises, eventually disappeared in 2003, replaced by Countdown stores.
Two restrictive covenants were placed in the title for the former 3 Guys site early in 1998. A supermarket owned by 3 Guys Property Ltd in Valley Road, Mt Eden was transferred to General Distributors back in May 1997 — and a covenant placed on the title of the Avondale land in January 1998 meant that while the land at Mt Eden was used as a supermarket, the land at Avondale could not be similarly used. In the same month, the Council placed a covenant on the title that while the Avondale supermarket site had been further subdivided into two parts, neither of these could be sold separately from each other.
Morning Star Enterprises conveyed the former Avondale 3 Guys site to Rawhiti Developments Limited in March 1998, and in turn it went to Challenge Petroleum Limited two months later. The company intended using the vacant site as a service station, a proposal that received approval from the City Council’s planning department.
However, around 40 business owners, plus the Avondale Primary School Board of Trustees took exception to the plans, and a community campaign ensued, fronted by local businessman Duncan Macdonald. The main issue was the impact on traffic in the area, and a likely increase in danger to pedestrians, especially school children. A petition was organised, and a picket staged on the Great North Road frontage. The protest was covered by local press: as a result, Challenge Petroleum withdrew their resource consent application in January 1999.
In April 1999, Auckland City Council purchased the site for $1.5 million, the transfer formalised in July, to ensure public access to the parking area. By now, Macdonald was president of the Avondale Business Association, and the ABA liaised with Council on concept plans to be presented to interested developers of the site. In September 2000, the ABA oversaw and supplied materials for local arts group 'Wai Kauri’ to paint a mural depicting the history of the Avondale area on the fence at the rear of the 3 Guys site.
It was announced that the Council had found a buyer in 2001 (at a loss of $153,650) and in 2002 the Council placed a further encumbrance on the title, ensuring that Quinnian Zhang had to provide 100 public carparks for recreational purposes, a street-level retail component on the majority of the Great North Road frontage, and to comply with certain community objectives for mixed use retail/residential for the property.
For the next 15 years though, the site remained empty, overgrown in places, and almost constantly used as a casual rubbish dumping ground. The owners prepared a number of development plans, none of which seemed to go very much further than the drawing board. One attempt in 2007 (for a development on the site of 54 residences, office, retail and café/restaurants) almost led to Council reversing their decision to amend the 100 public car park spaces encumbrance on the title to 61 spaces, with guarantees of access to the Avondale Central reserve. But negotiations appear to have broken down at the time.
Whau Arts Festivals were held there in 2014 and 2015, and in July 2017 four organisations sought to “reactivate” the site by installing two shipping containers there in an effort to create a community hub. This sparked controversy, and polarised part of the community. Eventually, after opposition from local businesses and the ABA, the containers were removed.
The private owners put the site back on the market, and Auckland Council’s regeneration agency Panuku purchased the site in October 2017. Panuku reported to the Council’s Planning Committee: “The large site in the middle of the town centre has been vacant since the late 1990s. This results in a lack of continuity of the town centre and a perception that the centre lacks vibrancy ... we will ... seek good development outcomes on the central development sites (1909 — 1949 Great North Road and 1907 Great North Road) through advocacy, negotiation or acquisition.”
In recent years the site has been the venue for the Art Park, as well as community activations.
Now the new library and community centre are being designed to replace the strip of shops west of the site and the Spider. The town square area where the Spider is will also be redeveloped. Along with the current demand for apartments, this renewal in Avondale should enable Panuku to negotiate a suitable sale of the site to a developer. Finally, the decades old vision for street level retail and apartments above could come to fruition.
Adapted from publication “At the Heart of the Village. The Lives and Transactions at the Former 3 Guys Site, Avondale”, written by Lisa J Truttman for the Avondale Business Association.