Auckland's oldest shops: Bhana Brothers, Ponsonby

By Sarah Ell

With fruit and vege, flowers and more, the brothers keep on keeping Ponsonby supplied
Harry Bhana, flanked by his brothers, Arvind (left) and Parvin. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Harry Bhana, flanked by his brothers, Arvind (left) and Parvin. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The fortunes of Ponsonby have risen, fallen and risen again, but the doors have stayed open at Bhana Brothers for nearly 80 years. The produce and grocery store at 129 Ponsonby Rd was opened in the late 1930s by the original brothers, Bhana Fakir and his brother Manilal, who emigrated from the Indian province of Gujarat in the early part of last century. It is still run by three of the current generation of Bhana brothers, Harivadan (Harry), Arvind and Pravin.

"Ponsonby was a different place then," Harry says. "It was more respectable in the early years, then in the 60s and 70s it started changing and it became a slum. And now it's turned back the other way."

While Ponsonby has changed around the shop, some things have stayed the same: the painted leadlight windows on the frontage, and the tradition of service and quality produce.

"Service is still number one," Harry says.

It is on the same site as the original shop but today's space is much bigger, with the brothers expanding to take over the place next door about eight years ago. The range of stock has expanded over time, too, from fruit and vegetables to their popular flowers and gourmet grocery items - but "it's not a dairy", Harry says. "We refuse to sell cigarettes and things like that. It contradicts what we are trying to sell over here," he says, gesturing at the fresh produce.

Although he spent 30 years working as an engineer on the waterfront before returning to the family business about 15 years ago, Harry worked in the shop as a schoolboy with his father and uncle, and used to deliver produce boxes around the district in the company's old open-deck truck - "we should have kept that, it'd be worth a bomb".

"We'd do about 100 orders a weekend, and go down just about every street in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn. It was fun, but hard work."

There's not much hope of another generation of Bhana Brothers, however. The brothers have six children between them but they all have professional careers and many are working overseas, says Harry. "I can't see them wanting to come back here and put on an apron."

And there may not be a business to come back to. Competition from supermarkets, including the flash new "premium" Countdown which recently opened in Williamson Ave, is putting the squeeze on the shop.

"A lot of shops like this are going to disappear. We're just sitting on the breadline and just can't carry on."

Lowdown

Bhana Brothers
129 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

- Weekend magazine

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