Auckland's oldest shops: KC Loo Fruit Centre

By Sarah Ell

Greengrocer KC Loo in his Mt Eden Rd shop. Photo / Getty Images
Greengrocer KC Loo in his Mt Eden Rd shop. Photo / Getty Images

In 1939, with the world on the brink of war, a young boy and his mother fled the Japanese advance in China and arrived in New Zealand to meet up with his father. They had visas to stay for a year, but nearly 80 years later the man that small boy became can still be found at the produce shop bearing his name, on the corner of Owens Rd in Mt Eden.

Kong Chew Loo, better known as KC, may be 85 but that doesn't stop him from coming in early every morning and making sure the produce is in tip-top condition and well displayed. He doesn't make the daily run to the markets any more - that task is left to daughter Glennis - but it's his name over the door, and that same name that secures the best quality and greatest possible range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

"If you can't get it here, you probably can't get it anywhere else in Auckland," Loo says. Thanks to long-standing relationships with suppliers, "there might be none of something for anyone else, but we will get it".

Loo has been in the business since 1947, longer than anyone else in Australasia, he reckons. He originally worked in partnership with his uncle, when his father bought the business for what was then the princely sum of £3100.

The original store was on the opposite corner, in the building now occupied by Barfoot & Thompson, then moved to further down Mt Eden Rd. The current building was constructed in the 1990s.

In earlier times, customers were hand-served by the team of staff, and produce was delivered to their homes. "We used to have two people working at night-time just doing deliveries," Loo says. Fruit and vegetables are now purchased from wholesalers at set prices rather than at auction, and tastes have changed: "Kale used to be just for animals, but now it's highly sought-after."

With Glennis is in charge of the shop these days, siblings Marlene and Richard also lend a hand, along with Loo's wife Eileen. Another daughter, Frances, runs the Chapter Book and Tea Shop around the corner.

Although Loo hopes one of his many grandchildren will carry on the business, he says it's hardly worth keeping the shop open - he could make more money as a landlord. "I'd be better off to let it out to someone else and spend my time travelling, but I'll just stay here so my kids have something to do."

KC Loo Fruit Centre, 436 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden.

- Weekend magazine

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