Grocery business determined to battle on

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 29/10/2011
Colin Johnson
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ
SHIP SHAPE: Colin Johnson sets up Johnson's Grocery in City Mall, Christchurch.

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In 1911 its doors opened and 100 years later an earthquake shook it to the ground, but Johnson's Grocery's owner has "unfinished business" with this city.

Colin Johnson is a stubborn Christchurch man who will admit only to being in his 70s.

He worked in his family's Colombo St grocery store – a Christchurch institution – every day since he left school. The last time he was in his apron, on February 22, he staggered out of a crooked shopfront after the earthquake threw him and most of his stock to the ground.

He was covered in tomato chutney that people mistook for blood. This morning he will tie a fresh apron for a new start.

"I have never been so excited, a bit hyped up you could say. I might be getting on a bit but I only feel about 40-years-old and I have unfinished business left in me yet," he said.

After eight months of forced sabbatical, Johnson said he had enjoyed spending time with his family, but always knew he would "get back into it for another few years".

His father bought the store in 1949 and the pair worked side-by-side for 40 years.

He believed his Dad would be proud the family business had survived after so much of the city fell.

Once the city gets back on its feet, Johnson said he would look at rebuilding on the same Colombo St site.

Johnson said he hoped reopening the store would give his customers some comfort.

"A lot of people have been ringing and asking where they can buy haggis. I've been telling them that on the 29th October they can come down to Cashel St and I'll be be-hind the counter once again."

After years of supporting stock, the shelves in his old store were sloping and sagging with age and on Thursday he could be seen admiring his "nice and sturdy new shelves".

He has imported his original store's products and "all the same lovely items" line the shelves of his new store.

"The earthquake has happened and we just have to get on with it. We have got to make this work," he said.

Although traumatised after the "scariest experience of my life", and saddened at the loss of his old family store, Johnson said he had never thought about leaving Christchurch. "I used to head to work happy every morning and then all of a sudden it was taken away from me."

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