Story: Shops

New Zealand’s first shops were trading posts selling goods to whalers in the 1830s. Later, family businesses developed. Some grew into successful chain stores and department stores with names that are still well-known today, like Hallensteins and Hannahs. From the 1960s suburban malls took custom from inner-city shops – but in the 2000s, there was a resurgence in inner-city living and shopping.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Palmerston North shops, 1896

Story Summary

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Early shops

From the 1830s traders sold goods to whalers. They stocked tobacco, butter, rum and cloth. General stores were set up in early European settlements. Nearly all their goods were imported, because very little was produced in New Zealand.

As the population grew, more shops were set up, including:

  • bookshops – New Zealand had lots of these
  • tobacconists, which were often also hairdressers or newsagents
  • jewellers, which also sold and repaired watches
  • drapers, selling fabric and sewing materials
  • pharmacies, which made and sold medicines
  • confectioners, which sold sweets, and were often near cinemas.

Chain stores

Some successful small stores expanded and became department stores, which sold many types of goods in one shop, or chain stores, which had branches in different towns. New Zealand chain stores included:

  • Hallensteins, clothing stores which had 36 branches by 1900
  • Whitcombe and Tombs bookshops, now Whitcoulls
  • Phoenix bicycle shops.

Rural shopping

In early times travel was difficult, so country people often bought goods by mail order. Most country towns had general stores, which sold the basics.

City shopping

From the 1920s city suburbs grew and public transport improved. Many suburbs had a shopping street, with a butcher, baker, draper, greengrocer, chemist, hairdresser and other shops.

Later, when more people owned cars and could drive to do their shopping, malls were built. Some smaller shops could not compete with the big malls, and closed down.

Working hours

In the 19th century shop staff worked up to 14 hours a day, six days a week. They fought for – and won – shorter work days.

From 1945 Saturday shopping was banned in most towns – but it started again in 1980. In the 2000s shops are open on Sundays too, and are only required to close on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day morning. From 2016 territorial authorities decided whether shops in their districts could open on Easter Sunday.

Shops today

Today there are lots of chain stores in cities and towns. Small shops have to compete with big stores, and with people selling goods on the internet.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Shops', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/shops (accessed 22 July 2018)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 16 Sep 2016