Grocer Brent and the day a lion roared

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Mark Swaney, left, and Brent MacGregor.

By John Keast

Retiring Allenton grocer Brent MacGregor will never forget how to spell loin, as in chops.

It is not lion, as he wrote on his store backboard one day.

It is one of several witty tales Mr MacGregor passed to his fellow 4 Square store owners on his retirement.

Mr MacGregor started work for his father, Hec, in 1972.

He was 17.

Three months later Hec bought him his first shop, Brents Wholesale House, and by the mid 1970s the MacGregors had four 4 Square stores.

He said there were only ever two things discussed at the dinner table – rugby and groceries.

Mr MacGregor said there were more than 20 grocery stores in Ashburton in the 70s – 4 Squares, IGA, Keystores, Self Help, the Farmers Co-op, Super Value and PGG.

When Hec MacGregor retired, Brent moved to his current store, Hec’s at Allenton.

He said that in the early days, most supplies were direct. The family rented a villa and each room was allocated to a supplier: Caxton, Watties, Sanitarium, Coke, Greggs, Rickett and Colman.

The MacGregors bought in bulk and discounted to the public.

“I can recall collecting our sugar from the railway, flour from Canterbury Roller Flour Mill, eggs from Ashburton Poultry and butter from Midland Dairy Co-op.

“Milk was something grocers weren’t allowed to sell (government regulation). We sold hundreds of packets of milk tokens.”

Mr MacGregor said technology had changed, from using a marker pen to price goods to a marking gun, then scanning.

He said the customer base was more widespread, with many Pacific Islanders, South Africans, South Americans and Filipinos.

Recalling a few funny moments, Mr MacGregor said he wrote lion chops on his blackboard (instead of loin) and word soon spread.

Then there was the time a customer came in trailing two metres of toilet paper from under a skirt, and the time a fridge broke down.

“I placed it on its end on our back landing, waiting for it to be picked up and dumped. My wife, Alison, arrived at the landing in her car and came upstairs for a cuppa. Five minutes later a man yelled upstairs, telling us that the car parked out the back had a freezer on top of it. A freak gust of wind had blown it over.”

Mr MacGregor has sold the business to Mark Swaney, of Ashburton, who has been involved in selling groceries to stores for about 25 years.

“The opportunity came up for this. It’s a great wee business,” Mr Swaney said.

He took over on Monday and Mr MacGregor will stay on for a couple of weeks.