Dairy a lasting landmark

23:53, Jul 23 2013
elizabeth st dairy
OLDEN DAYS: The Elizabeth St Dairy will soon be 130 years old - enough time to see many changes in the corner dairy industry.

It's Saturday morning in July 1886. The store on the corner of Elizabeth and York streets has just opened, and for the next 130 years at least it will be a hive of activity from dawn till dusk. Today it is still standing and still operating, but time has changed not only its facade, but also the place it has in modern-day life.

Not so long ago, in the 1960s and 70s, there were 63 corner dairies or small grocery stores in Timaru. These days there are only 12.

Once upon a time the block that the Elizabeth St dairy still operates on had a store on each of its four corners. The corner store was once the backbone of grocery trade in New Zealand, but with the coming of supermarkets in the mid to late 20th century, times have changed.

elizabeth st dairy
TODAY'S OWNERS: Although only a few survive, the corner dairy is still a thriving small business run today by Diya, from left, Ketan, Vidya and Dev Kolhe.

The first supermarket in New Zealand opened in Auckland in 1958. Many expected the corner store to be totally consumed by the onslaught of supermarkets, with their huge varieties of products and bulk-buying price advantages.

But the corner dairy did survive. Nearly 130 years on, Elizabeth St Dairy is still a thriving business, albeit with a few key differences.

In the old days the main trade was dairy products. Other staples such as flour and sugar were sold by the pound, various quantities weighed and packaged in brown paper bags. Not a single energy drink or garishly coloured packet of lollies was in sight.


bailee and piper ellery
OPEN ALL HOURS: Sisters Bailee and Piper Ellery find out what the corner store used to be like while at the South Canterbury Museum.

Spurred on by The South Canterbury Herald's oldest butcher shop story a few weeks back, former owners Laureen and Peter Macfarlane suspect their olde corner shoppe is the oldest in Timaru, if not in the country.

They sold the business to Ketan and Vidya Kolhe seven years ago, so now, like many dairies in the country, Elizabeth St Dairy is owned by an Indian family. Most Indian immigrants are highly qualified, and Mr and Mrs Kolhe are no different. Mr Kolhe has a Bachelor of Chemistry with a Post-graduate Diploma in Laboratory technology and Vidya is a lawyer.

"So many people in India have degrees and they're all applying for the same jobs. There is lots of competition, so I decided to come out here," Mr Kohle said.

The couple say they prefer the quiet life in New Zealand.

"There's nothing wrong with living in India, but we came here for a better life," Mr Kohle says.

To enter New Zealand migrants have to have suitable qualifications, but often it is difficult for them to get a job in the field that they are qualified in.

Mr Kolhe was lucky enough to initially worked in the Science department at Lincoln University. After four years, he decided to marry Vidya, and with her parents' consent she moved here from India. It was then that they decided to purchase a dairy so that they could spend their working lives together, and raise their young family.

"We found we could do a better

job of looking after the children if we are all together at home and at work," Mrs Kohle said.

When their children are both a little older, Mr and Mrs Kohle plan to work again in their respective fields of qualification.

Some international qualifications are not recognised over here, and to work as a lawyer Mrs Kohle will have to study about three papers in New Zealand law, which she plans to do.

Te Ara, the online encyclopedia of New Zealand says that owning a dairy is an easy business for immigrants to enter, as it does not require a great deal of capital and that running dairies has been popular with immigrant groups who often faced difficulties entering the general workforce.

The Kohle family decided on dairy ownership as a lifestyle choice, but with dairy owners typically working 90 to 100 hours each week, they think they'll only be in the game for another year or so.

After that the Elizabeth St Dairy will be ready for its next brood, to see the life of the corner dairy continue.

South Canterbury