Losing thousands of dollars' worth of stock was bad enough, but Ohaeawai Dairy owner Virgie Murray cannot understand why anyone would steal 25 years' worth of memories.

Now she is appealing for the return of three autograph books packed with signatures from celebrities, sports stars and tourists who have called into the family-run shop over the past quarter century.

The burglar cut through two padlocks and jemmied a side door to get into the dairy at 4.24am on Tuesday. He or she then cut another padlock on a steel gate separating the staff area at the rear from the shop itself.

CCTV footage shows the thief casually taking $8000 worth of cigarettes from racks and a storage cabinet, along with $100 in postage stamps. The till was forced open with a crowbar but contained only a small amount of cash.

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Worse was the theft of three notebooks with the autographs of every famous person who had visited the dairy as long as Virgie, her husband Bill and son Benj had owned it.

"It's a collection of all the celebrities who've come into the shop. We've had TV announcers, Dancing with the Stars contestants, a lot of sports people — Stacey Jones would always call in here — April Ieremia and untold All Blacks," Mrs Murray said.

Comedian Pio Terei had also left his mark, along with many overseas tourists.

The autograph books, the size of a school notebook but with a hard cover and maroon and orange stripes, had no monetary value but great sentimental value. She appealed to anyone who had them, or knew where they were, to return them to the shop or deliver them to the Kaikohe police.

CCTV footage shows a lone person in a pale hoodie, dark jacket and gumboots entering the dairy, returning about 10 minutes later, then leaving a second time at 4.39am. He or she had no interest in other items, even picking up a charity donation box and returning it to the counter.

Main street CCTV shows no vehicles coming or going at the time, and while it's hard to make out features, Mrs Murray believes the burglar was a woman.

Insurance would not cover their losses, she added, so the break-in would be "a big hit" financially. She had already put out a sign saying 'No smokes in stock!'

Past burglaries had been minor, apart from an incident in 2015, when three teens used a van stolen from Bay of Islands College to smash through the front roller door. The damage was significant but they took only drinks and pies.

Anyone with any information is urged to call the Kaikohe police on (09) 405-2960, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555-111.