New Zealand’s First Escalator – 1939

In 1939, Lesley Miller moved his successful fabric and fashion business into a specially built five story building on Tuam Street. Just fifteen years before, what would become the Millers Department Store had begun in Greymouth. Two years later, Lesley uprooted his family and business and made the move to Christchurch. It would be a shift that he wouldn’t regret.

From here on in, Millers Department Store set a great example; not only in customer service but in the care of staff. Millers were considered a benchmark for other businesses to follow. Staff not only had their own dining room and recreation area but also a full time nurse was available. The building in Tuam Street was also leading the way with all the mod cons (including not only a tea lounge but also a milk bar), housing New Zealand’s first escalator.

One of the floors was the home of the manufacturing department where 25,000 garments would be produced every week. During WWII, Millers also made uniforms for our soldiers.

In 1960, Reginald Miller took over from his father, spurring on the opening of other shops, the set up of a mill and a separate manufacturing location. In 1978, the Tuam Street building was sold, becoming the Christchurch City Council’s third home since its beginning in 1862. The move was made to Cashel Street and then on to Blenheim Road in 1987.

In 1981, in another New Zealand first, Millers started up the ‘Miller’s Dial-a-Curtain’ where an in-home decor consultant would make house calls instead of the customer coming in the store.

Now in its fourth generation of Millers, Millers faced the rebuild of Canterbury with great pride, publicly stating that in spite of the appreciated increase of business, the company was honoured to be part of Canterbury’s rebuild, one home and business at a time.

Sadly, the original Millers building in Tuam Street did not survive the earthquakes of 2011.

*Image courtesy Millers Interior of Cantage – Canterbury Heritage –
*Image of Tuam Street frontage courtesy of Millers –

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