Oscar Kightley: We're losing the game of shops and robbers

Where once dairies were the centre of our communities, they have become a battleground between shopkeepers and robbers, ...
CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

Where once dairies were the centre of our communities, they have become a battleground between shopkeepers and robbers, writes Oscar Kightley.

OPINION: In the olden days, when New Zealand shut down on Sundays, before malls took over and killed local shopping areas, the centre of the local universe was the corner dairy.

In Te Atatu North's main shops, that was a place called Tom's.  Walking in made you feel like a young Charlie Bucket when he walked into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

The lolly counters were packed with old school favourites like wine gums, decks, milk bottles, those ones that look like raspberries, banana lollies, toffee bars, K bars, tangy fruits, liquorice strips... you name it they were all there.  The only ones I couldn't get my head around were aniseed wheels.  I could never deal with those.

The group of Watercare sub-contractors - including Oscar Kightley's nephew Clynton Kightley, right - tackled an alleged ...
WATERCARE

The group of Watercare sub-contractors - including Oscar Kightley's nephew Clynton Kightley, right - tackled an alleged robber to the ground in Ponsonby, Auckland.

But there was also a milkshake machine, the ice cream flavours, the ice blocks fridge and, eventually once the technology had arrived, arcade games.

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Dairies were always run by friendly faces and, usually, a family from which even kids had to work. Over the course of daily visits, these people became as familiar to you as your own relatives.

A few years ago, I made a short film as an ode to these corner shop communities, called Tom's Dairy. You can watch it on YouTube if you have a spare 13 minutes between watching videos of hilarious cats.

The memories of my first encounters with the colours and fragrances of those little stores combine to make dairies my favourite shops in New Zealand.

So it has been horrific in recent times to see the alarming rise in how dairies and other small convenience stores have become a target for aggravated robberies

There was a particularly brutal one in May in the Auckland suburb of Mangere, when four masked men burst into a store brandishing machetes. One machete was even held to the neck of an employee.

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Since then, the TV news has reported the number of aggravated robberies has doubled in a year and there are now more than one a day reported in South Auckland alone. That this keeps happening to the people who sell us our milk, bread and the paper, brings it closer to home.

No wonder the frightened families who run those businesses are having to resort to putting up bars between them and their customers. That's not what friendly corner dairies are supposed to look like, but that's what it has come to and it's a visible stain on how our society is evolving.

This week there was a robbery at a dairy in Auckland's swanky Ponsonby Rd. The offender fled on foot.  Perhaps he thought everybody on Ponsonby Rd would be too busy with their coffees or shopping to chase him.

But he hadn't considered that just around the corner on Franklin Rd were a group of Samoan, Maori, Rarotongan and Pakeha sub contractors doing a job for Watercare.

My nephew Clynton was one of them and, while the rest of the team worked to cut off the offenders' escape route, Clynton chased him for about 100 metres and brought him down in a tackle from behind.

He doesn't recall too much.  Only that they heard yelling, it was about 10.30am, he jumped over the barrier and gave chase, and the whole thing was over in about 5 minutes. They held him until the police came, gave their reports, had a lunch break and then headed straight back to work. 

I'm so proud of Clynton.  He was always a good kid.  A lovely, quiet and sensitive boy, who's grown into a fine man and I'm not surprised he was part of that heroic effort.

He's 35 now and remembers asking the guy how old he was because he wondered how they were able to catch him, when he was obviously young.

"I was surprised when he said he was 24 because I thought he would have smoked us. I remember thinking what a waste of a life that was. I can't imagine doing stuff like when I was 24.  I'd already had a couple of kids."

The owners of this Ponsonby convenience store were lucky in that their ordeal was resolved quickly thanks to Clynton and his colleagues. But those owners will unfortunately now go to work every day with a sense of fear and trepidation, just like all the mums and dads who run the dairies that continue to be seen as easy targets by people after petty cash and cigarettes.

 - Sunday Star Times

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