I knock on the door to the back of the store but there’s no answer, so I browse. It’s probably a good ten minutes before owner Peter Rogers shows up and suggests we sit at one of his tables out front. You’re very trusting, I tell him, leaving the shop unattended for so long.
“Once I left it open all night,” says Peter. “When I arrived in the morning someone had left sixty dollars and a note saying ‘couldn’t find you, thanks for the sunglasses.’”
It wasn’t the only occasion. Real Time, for Peter, is an opportunity for social celebration over financial acquisition (much to his accountant’s disdain, he later tells me). The iconic Ponsonby shop has recently turned 40 and Peter’s incredibly youthful 64-year-old face implies there haven’t been too many sleepless nights. In fact, he seems like one of the happiest men I’ve ever met.
“It’s been fabulous,” says the shop-owner. “I’ve seen everyone grow up in the neighbourhood. I know their kids and their kids’ kids — it really has been a great privilege.”
Real Time is as renowned as a local hang-out as much as for its array of cool goods. Fellow Ponsonby storekeepers and customers gather to eat, drink, smoke and generally shoot the breeze. There’s a box of ‘street blankets’ to fend off the chills, while Peter tends to his hosting as he selects from his piles of classic LP’s. Bobby Womack and Neil Young are in favour at present. Later today, he’ll be mixing cocktails. Sometimes live acts play out front, with past performers including his daughter’s now-famous band, Street Chant: “I soon learned to manage it. There’s usually around 40 minutes before the noise complaints kick in so we wrap it up before then. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had 26 noise control notices!”
Peter isn’t musical though, except for when he’s had a few at the karaoke. He wanted to be an architect but dropped out of art-school sans degree (“I spent most of my time kissing girls”) and then started up a trading business. At one point, he headed five shops in the area, including his wife’s art gallery, but scaled back the business into the existing Real Time (the building previously served as their family abode). It’s an old-school browsers’ paradise that sells pretty much everything for the home along with vintage clothing, books, records, paintings and instruments, all arranged in a way that could only be described as organised chaos. The shop has as much character as its owner.
“I’m anti-minimalist,” says Peter. “You either love it or you don’t. There’s so much stuff in here that some people can’t handle it, I don’t sell much to those who frequent regular shops where everything is spaced further apart. People nowadays have an attention span of about one minute and fifteen seconds.”
Peter is a fan of Art Deco. He enjoys collecting bronzes, English ceramics and clothes from the 1920s. He calls himself a ‘hunter-gatherer’, spending his mornings searching out treasures before opening the doors at midday. “The old stuff,” he says, “tends to be bulletproof with designers making the mistake of manufacturing goods to last.” He’s a romantic, and he’s right, too: “I sell a lot of things that are useful, coffee pots and cast iron goods that once polished will last for another lifetime.”
He once found an old table in a hedgerow, cleaned it up and sold it for six hundred bucks. Inside Real Time, countless lampshades hang vine-like from the ceilings.
“I’ve always liked lighting,” says Peter. “I think it’s left over from my architecture days. Space is modified by light – good lighting always makes a building more interesting.”
It certainly is one of Ponsonby’s most interesting spaces, and Peter laments that it may be one of the last: “Ponsonby village is a wonderful community. I’ve witnessed its gentrification, and what’s a shame is that as the mainstream shops move in, the quirky ones like mine will die. But it’s been a great journey for me.”