Researchers celebrate the Chinese fruit shops

Two volumes preserve the history.

Two volumes preserve the history.

Ruth Lam and Beverly Lowe, two of the five co-authors of a book that documents the forgotten world of Chinese-owned fruit shops. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

Gisborne residents gathered for a book launch to celebrate and remember an era in this country’s history that has all but disappeared.

Long before supermarkets became a one-stop shop for fresh produce, most small towns and city suburbs had a fruit shop run by a Chinese family.

The Fruits of Our Labours, a fully illustrated, two-volume set of books, traces the development of Chinese fruit shops from the 1880s to the retailers of today.

About 30 people attended the launch, where Mayor Meng Foon spoke about the importance of recording the early history of the Chinese in New Zealand and the occupations they were in — one of them being fruit shops.

Mr Foon said his family worked hard in market gardening and fruit shops and he shared his memories of selling merchandise at his family’s roadside fruit stalls.

One story told of how the family grew one apple tree of each variety in front of their large shed.

These trees were supposed to have supplied their shops with a large number of the apples sold. In truth, the apples were bought on the ‘‘black market’’ direct from the orchards.

Co-author Beverly Lowe spoke about some of Gisborne’s early fruit shops that were gathering places for Chinese market gardeners who came into town.

At the peak, there were about 10 Chinese fruit shops along Gladstone Road but with the competition of supermarkets, they started to close down from the late ’60s.

Researched and written by Ruth Lam, Beverly Lowe, Helen Wong, Michael Wong and Carolyn King, the history is the result of seven years of interviews.

“It would have been forgotten. It had to be recorded, just like any history, otherwise it would have been lost,” said co-author Beverly Lowe.

In the 1950s, the number of Chinese-owned fruit and vege shops peaked at 587 nationwide, research for The Fruits of our Labours found.

Ruth Lam said at that time more than half of Chinese New Zealanders were involved in the fruit and vege industry.

Often an entire family pitched in to run the shops — from children serving behind the counter to grandparents cleaning fruit and vegetables out the back.

Gisborne District Council cultural activities operations manager Pene Walsh spoke about her memories of her mother sending her to buy fruit and vegetables daily at H Lowe & Co and recalled the immaculate displays of fruit against a mirrored wall.

Sets of the two-volume book were presented to Mr Foon, the Gisborne branch of NZ Chinese Association and HB Williams Memorial Library.

To buy the book visit the ‘‘fruit shops NZ’’ Facebook page.

Gisborne residents gathered for a book launch to celebrate and remember an era in this country’s history that has all but disappeared.

Long before supermarkets became a one-stop shop for fresh produce, most small towns and city suburbs had a fruit shop run by a Chinese family.

The Fruits of Our Labours, a fully illustrated, two-volume set of books, traces the development of Chinese fruit shops from the 1880s to the retailers of today.

About 30 people attended the launch, where Mayor Meng Foon spoke about the importance of recording the early history of the Chinese in New Zealand and the occupations they were in — one of them being fruit shops.

Mr Foon said his family worked hard in market gardening and fruit shops and he shared his memories of selling merchandise at his family’s roadside fruit stalls.

One story told of how the family grew one apple tree of each variety in front of their large shed.

These trees were supposed to have supplied their shops with a large number of the apples sold. In truth, the apples were bought on the ‘‘black market’’ direct from the orchards.

Co-author Beverly Lowe spoke about some of Gisborne’s early fruit shops that were gathering places for Chinese market gardeners who came into town.

At the peak, there were about 10 Chinese fruit shops along Gladstone Road but with the competition of supermarkets, they started to close down from the late ’60s.

Researched and written by Ruth Lam, Beverly Lowe, Helen Wong, Michael Wong and Carolyn King, the history is the result of seven years of interviews.

“It would have been forgotten. It had to be recorded, just like any history, otherwise it would have been lost,” said co-author Beverly Lowe.

In the 1950s, the number of Chinese-owned fruit and vege shops peaked at 587 nationwide, research for The Fruits of our Labours found.

Ruth Lam said at that time more than half of Chinese New Zealanders were involved in the fruit and vege industry.

Often an entire family pitched in to run the shops — from children serving behind the counter to grandparents cleaning fruit and vegetables out the back.

Gisborne District Council cultural activities operations manager Pene Walsh spoke about her memories of her mother sending her to buy fruit and vegetables daily at H Lowe & Co and recalled the immaculate displays of fruit against a mirrored wall.

Sets of the two-volume book were presented to Mr Foon, the Gisborne branch of NZ Chinese Association and HB Williams Memorial Library.

To buy the book visit the ‘‘fruit shops NZ’’ Facebook page.

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Michael Renouf, Tasmania - 4 months ago
What a great bunch of hard workers these people were. I went to school with a lot of their families.

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