Whole family pitches in to revive store with a history

The Te Uku general store’s come alive again – and it’s a whole clan of Framptons who’ve been instrumental in its revival.

Just a few weeks after the keys of the former Four Square were handed over to them late last year, the long-time Whatawhata family had the historic SH23 store restocked and back in business.

That was no mean feat considering it had been closed for around four months. As 19-year- old part owner Sophie Frampton told the Local Rag last week, it took the efforts of “all our extended family” to return the store to something approaching its former glory.

In a nod to the legendary Te Uku storekeeper Cecil Finlay, it now proudly proclaims to stock “everything and more” – from chook chow, plumbing fittings and building supplies to locally sourced products like Dreamview milk, Raglan sourdough, Te Uku honey and Xtreme Zero Waste rubbish bags.

Postal services had also recently been reinstated when the Local Rag caught up with the Frampton family last week, and fresh flowers grown locally added to the mix.

Bakery items were back on sale too, a move made partly in anticipation of a tradie rush with the opening up of a new subdivision or two nearby. 

The store’s also moved into healthy eating options such as gourmet muffins and specialty Mexican meal kits.

“Yes, I know how to run a shop,” Sophie’s dad Simon laughed over the phone, in between serving customers at Gas Whatawhata where he’s worked now for 23 years.

As he spoke his wife Kim, mother-in-law Liz and teenage son Tim were all back in Te Uku running the store.

Sophie was at her job in Hamilton as an administrator for an accounting firm, having done shifts in the store the previous weekend. “We’re all working full time,” she explained, meaning at other jobs besides staffing the shop.

While Simon for instance divides his time between the store and service station – 20 minutes away over the divvy – Kim juggles the serving of customers at Te Uku with a backroom job making telephone appointments for the Covid Healthline.

Simon concedes it’s a “crazy life”, adding:  “We didn’t go looking for this, it came to us.”

Sophie, for one, encouraged her father to take up the business opportunity when it happened his way. She says he has a passion for taking on things in the community, and a good head for business after having built up the servo during the decades the family has lived in Whatawhata.

Added to that, her teenage brother Tim was already a budding young grocer from a four-year stretch with Raglan Four Square, where he was recently described as their “rising star”.

Now, at just 15, he’s become Te Uku Store manager, holding the fort while his dad’s occupied at Gas Whatawhata.   

“The two of them have pulled together and done really well,” says Sophie proudly.

Simon – who with his family has regularly camped at Raglan in summertime – recalls how he started out at the old Whatawhata gas station back in the late 80s and “built it up from nothing”. 

The now 47 year old had planned to work there only three years then go it alone in business. Two decades later he’s finally fulfilling that dream. 

His vision for the general store is to try to take it back to the old days – with a modern twist of course – when it was the centre of the community, selling bulk food, farm supplies and pretty much everything else. 

But he doubts it’ll ever be quite as good as in Cecil’s heyday. 

“Cecil had a wood yard as well,” he recalls, every nook and cranny stocked with nuts, bolts and screws of every conceivable shape and size.

* Te Uku Store is understood to have first opened in 1924 on land originally earmarked as a graveyard. Irish-born Cecil Finlay ran it from the 50s until he died in 2000, then daughters Colleen and Sandra took over for a time.

This story is part of NEW WAVE: a series profiling the latest people making a splash about town

By Edith Symes