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July 4, 2024

Heirloom to be found in Adelaide Arcade underground tea rooms

A subterranean piece of Adelaide Arcade history can be explored when Heirloom's pop-up opens from tomorrow.

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  • Words and pictures: Claudia Dichiera

Adelaide Arcade has a rich history.

General manager Andrew Jonats says that since it opened 1885,  many “urban myths and fables and oral history” have emerged from the heritage-listed building – particularly about what lies beneath.


Heirloom pop-up in the Adelaide Arcade tea room
112/118 Grenfell Street between Grenfell Street and Rundle Mall, Adelaide 5000
First weekend of every month
Friday: 10am ’til 5pm
Saturday: 10am ’til 4pm


“Adelaide Arcade, 1885, back in the day, you didn’t really do foundations… it’s just sitting on six foot of rubble and they dug the basements,” he says.

“So you assume, safely, that all the basements were built back then – because there’s multiple basements.”

They’re scattered along the Arcade, underneath Haigh’s Chocolates, Mad Zombie Collectables, Koko Black and Ciao Coffee Bar, though “these are the ones we know of now”.

“So the one under Haigh’s, for example, you have to access that through a hatch. That’s why you don’t really know about it, and during various times that has actually flooded,” Andrew says.

“It is quite interesting: Koko Black out the front used to be a jeweller and there’s a basement under there as well and the jeweller wanted us to effectively close off the basement because he said that we could hear his private conversations when we’re in the basement.”

Inside the tea room


As there are no set original plans for the Arcade, Andrew suspects undiscovered basements are hiding underneath other stores, but no one knows.

“Well, unless we rip up all the floors, no [we wouldn’t],” Andrew says.

“It’s an old building, and every little nook and cranny has got its own story and history so we’re always finding bits and pieces.

“Whenever you do any work, you always find some newspaper [that’s] 100 years old [or from] the stage in history when it was last renovated.”

Andrew says the tea room, which is on display through a transparent panel on the arcade floor, is the only underground space that’s “actually functional”.

“Back in the day, 1885, people were a bit shorter, so the ceilings are a bit lower which is ok for someone like me,” he laughs.

He said the many different tenants throughout the years used Adelaide Arcade in many different ways.

“We’ve had butchers and fruit and veg and because back in the day you just had your little grocer so every shopping precinct had basically everything — so there’s a big cool room down there as well, but an original one, so it’s all timber.”

And “once upon a time… there was a tea room down there”.

“A tea room was effectively just the place to gather for a cup of tea before coffee was popular,” he says.

“Coffee wasn’t popular in Australia and Adelaide until really the 1960s with the Mediterranean influence [from] the immigrants after World War II, that’s why we had tea rooms.

“We’ve always been looking for an excuse to open it up and use it because everyone loves it and because it’s full of history.”

This is the staircase visible through the glass floor in the Adelaide Arcade thoroughfare


For the first time in “at least 20, 30 years that [Andrew’s] aware of, 50 years maybe”, the space will again host a shop open to the public.

Heirloom, which used to have a brick-and-mortar store in the arcade, will pop up inside the tea room on the first Friday and Saturday of every month.

“Heirloom is the perfect product as well because the name says it all; it’s all about having quality, treasured products that you’re going to buy and keep,” Andrew says.

“That’s how that fits in our tea rooms because everyone treasures our tea rooms and hopefully you buy something from Heirloom that you’ll treasure for a long time as well.”

Though you can’t venture to the tea room through the stairs blocked off by glass — it’s a short walk to a nearby exit, then an adventure through an outdoor staircase back underneath the Arcade — this pop-up will feature all the regular Heirloom supplies.

“The Heirloom tea room pop-up shop is a slightly condensed version of our regular brick-and-mortar store. Just as our customers came to love when we were trading from Gay’s Arcade, we are continuing to specialise in best-made, quality goods for the house and garden,” owner and operator Sherrin Koch says.

“We stock beautiful household goods from Japan and Europe, as well as an expanding range of Australian-made products that are designed and manufactured to last a lifetime.

“The tea room itself is a really magical space. It’s a little rough and ready around the edges because it is typically only used by the Arcade for storage, but we have been really surprised by how much people enjoy getting to see this piece of South Australian history that usually isn’t accessible to the public.”

What the Heirloom pop-up looks like. This picture: supplied.

After leaving the brick-and-mortar in Gay’s Arcade at the start of June after nearly four years of trade, Sherrin decided to leave the brick-and-mortar to focus on personal ventures while also considering the economic climate wasn’t “looking like booming anytime soon”.

“We’ve decided to try this pop-up concept because we can see that historically, specialty small businesses such as ours seem to have a hard time existing in Adelaide beyond the one-to-three-year mark. I think it probably has something to do with our population size and our state’s euphemistically named conservative streak,” Sherrin says.

“Rather than leaning into the multi-national led push to make retail trading a 24/7, 365 days a year thing — which is completely unachievable for small, family-run businesses — we’ve decided to go in the opposite direction by pushing all of our city-focused trading hours into a couple of days a month.”

Heirloom in the Adelaide Arcade tea room pop-up will run on the first Friday and Saturday of every month.

Connect with Heirloom and the Adelaide Arcade on Instagram for more.

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