New book The Fruits of Our Labours uncovers the forgotten world of Chinese-owned fruit shops

Hundreds of Chinese New Zealanders have gathered for a book launch on Saturday afternoon to remember an era in this country's history that has all but disappeared. 

In the '50s and '60s, almost every small town and city suburb had a fruit shop run by a local Chinese family.

But only around 10 have survived as supermarkets and online shopping have taken over.

Eileen Loo has been stocking fruit shop shelves since she was 12. Now 85, retirement is not an option.  

"Well you can say I'm going to die with my boots on - as long as I can do it, I'll do it," she told Newshub.

The Loo family are one of just a handful of original fruit shops still operating; thousands of others have long shut down.

In their place are coffee shops, dairies and mostly supermarkets.

Many fruiterers were once poor gold miners, whose entrepreneurial skills and contacts in China earned some a good living - until big business came along.

"Mostly Mr Foodtown. He was Chinese himself, he grew up in a fruit shop background, but he bought the supermarkets," co-author Helen Wong said.

"[He] brought Foodtown to New Zealand and from there on, the Foodtown concept took off."

Stocking shelves now, a record of how it all began, is The Fruits Of Our Labours - the result of seven years of interviews by five co-authors.

"It would have been forgotten - it had to be recorded, just like any history, otherwise it would have been lost," co-author Beverly Lowe said.

In small towns, Friday nights at the fruit shop were quite an occasion as farmers converged for weekly groceries and catch-ups.

"Families grew up there. People were telling us stories about their babies sleeping in apple boxes, it was pretty much their whole life," said co-author Helen Lam.

The heyday success of fruit shops also contributed to their demise as there was no-one to take over.

Parents did the hard yards so future generations could get careers outside the shop - and now, the traditional Chinese fruit shops has become a thing of the past.