This exhibition provides a glimpse into the past, the days when we made a daily or weekly trip to the local shops to buy our food supplies.
Curated by Ruth Lam
Often the fruit and vege shop was run by a Chinese family and there have been Chinese fruiterers in Remuera’s shopping precincts since the 1920s. They were family-run businesses, often with two or three generations all working together to provide the customer with the freshest fruit and produce with the best service. The number of businesses steadily increased until the 1960s when there were ten shops servicing Remuera households. However, with the introduction of self-service retailing and the emergence of supermarkets, Chinese fruit shops found it harder to compete and by the 1990s only three remained in business. Today, Jack Lum & Co is the only one that continues the tradition of selling high-quality fresh fruit and vegetables.
At the Victoria Avenue shopping area, Chinese fruit shops occupied the four corners of the intersection from the 1920s to the 1980s. The first Chinese fruit shop recorded was Wong Kee & Co in 1924. It was located in Cole’s Building at 384 Remuera Rd. Wong Kee had previously prospered as a hawker, enabling him to open fruit shops in Onehunga and Remuera, but he got into financial difficulty and went bankrupt. In December of that year Kwong Hing & Co bought the business and ran it until 1941.
Fred & Dick Chinn
In 1948, brothers Fred and Dick Chinn took over the business at 384 Remuera Road. They had been working in their father’s market garden in Panmure but gave it up when he died in 1947. It was a calculated risk as the shop was not doing very well and there were already four other fruit shops in the vicinity. However, with lots of enthusiasm the brothers opened up with enticing specials and were soon doing well. They worked hard and operated it successfully for 17 years before selling it to Willie and Allan Tam in 1965.
Across Victoria Ave at 368 Remuera Road, where the ANZ bank is now, Fong Kee opened a fruit shop in 1930. In 1937, his son George Wai Poi took over the running of the business. George and his wife Rona (nee Sai Louie) operated the shop for ten years before selling it in 1947 to Meelan She Cheong from Thames. She was helped by Ng King Ching, a long-time friend of the family who owned the well-known King Ching fruit shop at 262 Broadway, Newmarket. Meelan’s children Betty, George, Ida and Jack all helped in the shop until it was sold in 1965.
Betty Ching (nee She Cheong) recalls, ‘George and I did everything in the shop. Vegetables came in big sacks; we had to carry the sacks and wash everything. And stack the fruit. It was a family business. We delivered on Friday and Saturday. I stopped helping my mother when I got married so Mum hired a carrier, Robbie, and he helped in the shop too. My brother was always with Mum. My mother was very determined; she got her driver’s licence and learnt to drive the truck when she was 40.’
Kwong On & Co
At number 365, in the Hellaby Building on the Clonbern Road corner, was Kwong On & Co. This business was established in 1932 by Jung Toe Fay. In 1938, he sold it to Francis and Alice Wong and moved to Whangarei. Francis and Alice (nee Ah Chee) both came from well-known fruit shop families and were experienced in the business. They had four children who helped them in the business, Joana, Margaret, David and Susan.
Joana recalls trimming the cabbages and cauliflowers in the backyard. She was also responsible for cooking the beetroot and deep-frying cashew nuts. She did the deliveries around 6 o’clock. Dinner, cooked by the grandparents or other members of the extended family, was eaten after the shop closed. On Saturday afternoons, the family had to clean up: fruit and vegetables were taken down to the basement and put into the coolroom, shelves were wiped down, aprons that the shop workers had worn were washed, and various other tasks were completed for the week.
David remembers that Christmas was an especially hectic time. He recalls, ‘We had up to 15 staff in the shop. We had all the basement area full of about 60-80 orders. In the early years, we were sending stuff up to Russell and the Bay of Islands for some of the big customers. They wanted whole case-loads of vegetables, so we’d take them down to Newmarket train station.’
After selling fruit and vegetables to the residents of Remuera for 25 years, the business suffered a setback when Alice’s health declined. In 1962, the Wongs sold the business to Young Moo Ching who then sold it to Eric Wong Ming. They both traded as Kwong On & Co.