Newtown is probably THE up-and-coming neighbourhood in Johannesburg right now. Old factories and warehouses are being renovated into chic new blocks of flats, and clubs and restaurants are popping up everywhere.
The venerable Museum of Africa calls it home, as does the Market Theatre, one of Joburg’s most prized pieces of cultural history, and the SAB World of Beer. If you were betting on an area for property values to increase dramatically in the next few years, Newtown must be it. And as always with up-and-coming neighbourhoods, artists and creatives were the first to move in and spruce the place up.
It all centres around one popular and vibey place: Newtown Junction. This mall/open square/general hang out spot opened its doors in 2014 to much fanfare. It’s one of the biggest developments to be done in Joburg’s CBD in many years, so served as a signal for the turning tides of our downtown area that’s had a tough time of it of late. The CBD (short for Central Business District) used to be just that: the epicentre of all industry and activity in South Africa’s biggest metropolis. Since the days of the gold rush, the CBD made the City of Gold what it was. But in the 1960’s and ‘70s businesses slowly but steadily began to migrate out of the downtown area, leaving beautiful Victorian buildings abandoned and factories and warehouses to be taken over by vagrants. The final nail in the coffin came in 2000 when the Johannesburg Stock Exchange packed up to move north to the new business centre of Sandton.
In recent years, however, a revival of epic proportions has been getting underway. Some say it all began with the ambitious plan by a young Johannesburg businessman to develop a few blocks deep in the innercity, the now famous Maboneng- place of light. Newtown hasn’t been far behind Maboneng though, and some say it has done a better job of retaining its gritty and local character while also attracting big development projects. Whatever your opinion, Newtown is without a doubt one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in Joburg today.
My absolute favourite example of this is Workshop Newtown, a collection of incredibly chic and glamorous boutique stores set up in a warehouse-style room within the Newtown Junction mall. Workshop Newtown is not just a nice place to shop while having a look through the surrounding area or popping in to the mall. It is the very heart of the suburb, because of its ability to effortlessly attract the coolest kids around. Its wares are both luxuriously beautiful and reassuringly local. Beaded necklaces, designer neutral-coloured clothes, handmade soaps and bath goodies, one-of-a-kind pillows and placemats… Workshop Newtown is a veritable treasure trove of beautifully crafted goods.
I recently took a trip there in search of a present for my boyfriend’s birthday. After strolling through the bright, breezy hallways looking at artwork, brightly coloured ties and artisan hats, I finally settled on a beautifully handmade leather travel pouch, the product of a group of designers from Cape Town. I could have carried on shopping there for myself forever, but will have to wait for another day to spoil myself.
Workshop Newtown exudes the Joburg spirit that attracts and keep us all here: vivaciousness, grittiness, effortless style. For both locals and visitors alike, it’s the perfect oasis to spend a sunny afternoon shopping before a lazy lunch at one of the outdoor cafés. Otherwise, you can visit in the evening, just before the party gets going at nearby News Café, and have dinner at the delicious Potato Shed next door. Either way, it’s a treat not to be missed, and if you keep an eye out you might even learn something about the rich history and culture of the bustling city that surrounds it.
Workshop Newtown is open from Monday-Friday 10:00-18:00, on Saturdays from 10:00 to 19:00, and Sundays and Public Holidays 10:00-15:00.
The costs range from very little for small goodies to slightly exorbitant for the larger, designer wares, but the window shopping itself is more than worth it.
The address is 100 Carr St, Johannnesburg, 2000. There are signs to the secure parking in Newtown Junction from all around Newtown. It’s also close by to a number of taxi ranks and bus stops (corner of Sauer and Lilian Ngoyi Streets).