Story: Food shops

Until the 1960s the main street of most towns or suburbs had a cluster of shops, including a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer and other food retailers. By the 2000s the convenience of supermarkets had caused the demise of many small food shops. However, some specialist stores survived by serving a niche market.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Butcher Murray Easton

Story summary

All images & media in this story

Until the 1960s most people did their food shopping at small local shops, including butchers, bakers and greengrocers. After that, many shops closed because supermarkets took away their customers.


Shoppers would bring their shopping list, and the grocer would collect the items from shelves behind the counter. Staples like flour and sugar were scooped out of bins, weighed and put into bags.

Often groceries were delivered to people’s homes, as many people did not have cars until the 1950s.


Early butchers didn’t have refrigerators, so they hung the meat carcasses on their verandahs to keep them cool. Butchers’ shops used to have sawdust spread on the floor to soak up the blood.

Most butchers ran their own shops, but some butchers became chain stores, such as the Mad Butcher shops.


The first fish shops opened in the late 1860s. Before that fish was bought directly from fishermen, or sold door to door by hawkers.

Greengrocers and fruiterers

Greengrocers and fruiterers used to sell a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. From the late 1800s many were Chinese. The shops that survived in the 2000s usually sold specialist produce or catered to people who wanted organic fruit and vegetables.


Before the late 20th century there were very few delicatessens in New Zealand. Most were in cities, and tended to be run by immigrants from mainland Europe. Verkerks Deli, opened in Christchurch in 1956, grew into a company that produced cured meats.


Until the late 20th century bread had to be made fresh every day, and bakers had to get up very early in the morning to bake it before the first customers came. At first bread was baked in wood-fired ovens. When electric ovens were introduced it became easier to make more bread at once.

By the 1980s most of the small bakeries had been replaced by larger automated bakeries. But in the 2000s specialty bakers found a market by selling a wider range of bread.


Until the 1990s the local dairy (convenience store) was a feature of most suburbs. However, supermarkets’ longer opening hours pushed many dairies out of business.


Supermarkets grew up out of self-service grocers. The first modern supermarkets – with large car parks – opened in the 1950s.

Shopping hours

The hours that shops were able to open, and what they were able to sell, were set in law. In 1990 a law was passed to allow shops to open up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except on some public holidays.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Food shops', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 11 March 2010, updated 1 September 2016