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.
James Wong Fruiterer
Crossing over Clonbern Road leads to 387 Remuera Road. Here, from 1940, there was a Chinese fruit shop named Yee Hop. It is believed to have been owned by Chan Yuen Ling, the father of Professor Henry Chan, a noted Chinese historian.
The shop was bought by James and Ida Wong in 1951. They lived above the shop with their son Ron and daughter Lotus. In the 1960s, the family sold their shop and moved to Ellerslie. Bing Sing & Co then operated the business until 1979.
See A New Zealand Chinese Family in Remuera.
W Wong Fruiterer
Willie Wong was in business at 551 Remuera Road from 1950 with his wife Elsie and son Spencer. Willie’s sister Minnie Ah Chee also helped out.
Minnie said, ‘Willie worked in the garden too. He would go to the market, come back, do all the shop work then head home for a few hours and work in the garden. He used to put plants in, get stuff for the shop too. Everything was fresh, that’s why we were so popular. Everyone knew all the tomatoes were home-grown, from our own gardens. We bought the fruit and bananas from the markets.’
After 47 years serving the households of Remuera, the family closed the shop for the last time on Valentine’s Day 1997.
Jack Lum & Co
The only Chinese fruit shop left in Remuera now is the well-known Jack Lum & Co. In 1970, Jack and Carrie Lum bought the business at 365 Remuera Road and renamed it Jack Lum & Co. Times were difficult for the next eight to 10 years. Jack was working up to 90 hours a week just to keep the business going. They gradually built up a reputation for having a wide variety of top-quality fresh produce. They had learnt to cater to their local customers, who expected them to stock imported out-of-season and hard-to-find produce plus provide a high standard of quality, cleanliness and personal service. In 1988, the lease on the building expired so they moved to Norana Avenue. While they were there, the Lums also operated Sunhill Fruit Centre in St Johns Road, Meadowbank. After three years, opportunity arose to return to the heart of Remuera when the National Bank building in Clonbern Road became available.
The Lums continue to build on their success. Carrie describes Jack as being the ‘customers’ best friend’, as any bargains he gets at the markets, he passes on as specials. Between the two of them, they make a great team: Jack is the strategist doing all the thinking and making the tough decisions while Carrie does the office and administration work and looks after the staff. Jack Lum’s, as they are fondly known, have an excellent reputation – some loyal customers who have moved out of the area continue to travel in weekly. At Christmastime, people from all over Auckland, knowing they are buying the best and the freshest produce, queue to the top of the street waiting to come in.
Excerpts and images in this exhibition are from The Fruits of Our Labours: Chinese Fruit Shops in New Zealand, published in 2018.
© Ruth Lam 2020