Lord of Civic Square the Aotea Centre may be today, but it is a johnny come lately on a patch of land that was, in 1855, granted to the Auckland City Council for the creation of Auckland’s first public market.
It became occupied by various kinds of stall holders ranging from green grocers to food retailers, poulterers, fancy goods dealers, secondhand goods and furniture dealers, and a wide variety of entertainers and hucksters.
But in 1905 several fruit and produce auctioneers joined together and leased a large building which the council had constructed on the site, thus becoming the first centralised fruit and produce market for the new city.
They remained in business there for about 14 years until the council decided, largely against the wishes of the marketeers, to shift them to an area of reclaimed land bounded by Customs and Sturdee Streets. The new market buildings were opened in April 1918, and the area served as Auckland’s fruit market until 1993.
Turners and Growers, today the undisputed king of the fruit and vegetable marketing, began life as Edward Turner and Sons, selling wholesale greengroceries at the back of His Majesty’s Theatre in Durham Lane, just off Queen Street.
About 1905 they moved to the main market building, occupying perhaps the worst position in it; at the back, facing Albert Street, adjacent to the Council horse stables, and the pound for stray dogs.
But Edward Turner was, his grandson Graham says, “an outstanding auctioneer”, and about the time all the auctioneering firms moved down to Customs Street, E Turner & Sons commanded the largest floor space in the new premises. Only Arthur Tooman & Co could equal their 8000 square feet, and just one year later, in 1919, that firm was taken over by the Turners who were fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.
That takeover doubled the floor space available to the company and established it in a strong position occupying the entire corner block of city markets building, facing onto a Custom St West and the Nelson Street extension, later called Market Place.
It was towards the end of 1920 that the Auckland Provincial Fruitgrowers Coop was forced into liquidation. E Turner & Sons grabbed the opportunity to form an association with many of the grower members of the former Coop – and so Turners and Growers Limited was formed.
While there were other small firms located in the market buildings – Perkins & Sons, Radleys and fertilisers supplier J Jones Ltd – it was Produce Markets which for many years provided the main competition for Turners and Growers.
Produce Markets was a subsidary of AB Donald, one of the oldest established island traders, which also had very close relationships with many of the important Chinese growers. It was at their behest that Produce Markets was formed.
However, at the new site it had the disadvantage, former managing director Ted Carroll explains, of trying to “run a business with a street running through the middle of us”. That is, the company had cramped premises on each side of Customs Street, and never succeeded in getting permission from the City Council to build a dock to make loading and unloading easier for their customers.
Turners, on the other hand, had the facilities to make life easier for its customers.
Nevertheless, Ted Carroll says, Produce Market was “a good, strong business” for many years. It was taken over by a Wellington firm George Thomas & Co Ltd in 1973, then sold to Wrightsons Group in the mid 1980’s. Then in 1989 Turners & Growers bought out Wrightson Horticulture, finally ending the life of its old foe in 1991.
In March 1993, Auckland’s markets moved out to Mt Wellington.
Today, Radleys is the only other company operating there which, like Turners, offers a total range of produce. That company, which has held on successfully against the industry giant for three generations, does not auction its produce, however.
Also sharing the new premises are several smaller companies involved in niche areas of the produce market: Chiquita Brands, MG Marketing, Carter & Spencer. And, making use of the market venue but not its selling structures, are those who prefer to do at least some of their business direct.