The Blockhouse Bay Grocery and Tearooms
Alfred (Fred) and Margarette (Daisy) Thom lived in Folke Street, New Lynn, with their family and Daisy’s widowed mother. The children attended New Lynn Primary School and the whole family participated in the New Lynn community life, with Fred serving on the New Lynn Town Board.
However, they spent every free minute over at Blockhouse Bay, fishing, swimming, picnicking and camping in the summer holidays and on long weekends when the weather permitted. As the years passed, Fred became aware of how popular the area was becoming, both with summer campers and with more and more permanent residents as well as day visitors. He decided the time was just about right to build a store down near the beach as the only drawback for campers and residents down at the bay was the steep climb up from both Blockhouse Bay and Sandy Bay to Wynyard Street, and then another climb up to the shops in the Village. (Wynyard Street was much steeper then, as can be seen looking down from Gilfillan t, the original street on the high ground bordered by a white railing.)
After careful consideration, Fred purchased a block of land immediately opposite the track down to Sandy Bay and a short distance from the track to the main beach. The shop and tearoom with living accommodation behind was built just off the footpath, and the family moved from New Lynn just before Christmas in 1923. The intention was to open after the holidays, but once the campers had seen they were in residence, they began beating on the door and so the shop opened early.
The store was to the left of the front door and had shutters opening on to the pavement so that passersby had only to take a couple of steps to purchase a cooling drink or a delicious icecream. The icecream fridges were under the counter and icecream came in big drums and was placed in the fridges with heavy cork insulation. It was possible to purchase penny icecreams as well as threepenny and sixpenny ones. There were three flavours – vanilla, strawberry and lime. Grey and Menzies soft drinks, flavoured lime, strawberry, orange, pineapple, creaming soda and lemonade were very popular. Jars of brightly coloured sweets stood on the counter tempting passing children.
Grocery shopping was much more relaxed than it is today. Inside the front door the counter stretched along to your left. There was a chair for the weary shopper and a shelf on which to place basket and purse. After an exchange of greetings and enquiries as to family health, the serious business began. Because there was virtually no pre-packaging, most things had to be weighed. There was no sellotape, so all bags were folded closed and secured with string. Cheese was cut from a large block with a wire cutter and bacon was cut to the thickness the customer required. Bycroft biscuits came in large tins and were weighed out, and it was possible to purchase bags of mixed broken biscuits. Fred would take a pencil from behind his ear to add up the purchases and then would pack everything in the customer’s basket.
While shopping, the customer would be assailed by wonderful baking aromas coming from Daisy’s kitchen and so would often stop for a cup of tea and either sandwiches, scones or cakes, before leaving. The tearoom stretched along the front of the building and had canvas blinds that were rolled up during the day. Later, sliding glass windows replaced these. On Saturday nights the tables and chairs were cleared away and the campers and locals would have a singalong and dance, while Fred played the piano.
After the World War II broke out, Fred and Daisy’s son joined the Army and went overseas. In 1942 the dreaded telegram was received saying he was missing, believed killed. Daisy stopped baking for the tearoom at this time, saying her heart was not in it. Six months later, word was received that their son was in a Prisoner-of-War camp in Germany, and she restricted her baking other than for the family, to fruit cakes to send to him.
The grocery part of the business continued for a couple more years but with rationing and all the restrictions it too closed. Daisy and Fred eventually moved to a smaller house in Donovan Street. The original house has changed hands several times but from the road still looks much as it did originally, although the inside has been totally gutted and the back part of the section has another house on it.