Erwin Leonard Guy Abel

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Erwin Leonard Guy Abel (23 October 1911 – 1 May 1995) was a New Zealand grocer, businessman, athlete and racehorse owner. He was born in Ohakune, Rotorua/Taupo, New Zealand on 23 October 1911.[1] Onthey opened Abel opened New Zealand's first shopping mall, The Big A Plaza, at Glenview, Hamilton in October 1969.[2]


Early Life & career[edit]

On 23 October 1911, Erwin Leonard Guy Abel was born in Ohakune to a farm worker and bush contractor named Leonard Guy Abel, and his wife Rosa Hunt. He was the second of four children and was known as, Wynn. Abel grew up Waikato and the King Country, both regions in North-Western New Zealand; he did live for a few months on Banks Peninsula. In Cambridge, Abel worked as a grocery assistant at the Farmer's Trading Company store; he was fourteen and finished with school, he would work for eight years there.

On 16 March 1933, Abel married Jean Winifred Keene in Auckland. The couple would have five children together: Four daughters and one son. It was soon after Abel's wedding that he would get a promotion at the grocery store: Able was transferred to the Whangarei branch of farmers where he was to manage the grocery department of the store.

Abel was a very precocious young man who was constantly driven by self-improvement: He studied bookkeeping, grocery retailing and business management until he was well versed in all three subjects. In fact, Abel took up a second job, for some extra money, selling correspondence classes. In 1936, Abel had received a diploma from the London-based Fern Business Institute for management. It was soon after receiving this academic accolade that he purchased his own grocery business, the Wellworth While stores; it was located in central Whangarei.

Abel found success with his grocery business in central Whangarei, credit is likely due to his business philosophy: Combining the lowest prices with the highest quality and standards of personal services, both helping to ensure quality customers that had loyalty. His business had a catch phrase that it advertised to customers: "If Abels hasn’t got it … nobody has!". This catch phrase had really captured the essence of Abel's dedication to customer service and what his business was all about.

During the Second World War Abel and his family provided and packaged its own products at his grocery store; these products included pickled onions, bottled jam, and cream biscuits. By the 1950s, Abel purchased a second store in Whangarei and had his only son—Len—manage it.

Able was truly an innovative businessman, especially for the grocery industry; he claimed to be the first grocer to take the backs out of their shop windows at the store to allow for the customers to provide themselves with self-service.

Mid-life and career[edit]

In 1953, Abel had won a research trip to Europe and North America to study grocery retailing, wholesaling plus the new and wildly popular supermarkets. When Abel returned from his research trip he decided to open his own supermarket with his son. On 29 November 1961, Abel and his son had chosen Hamilton as the site for their new supermarket; it opened in the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest. It was Hamilton's first supermarket and in turn was one of New Zealand's first supermarkets. The supermarket venture became a huge success: They very next year the Abels built four new adjoining supermarkets.

On 8 October 1969, Abel and his son opened their "Big 'A' Plaza" at Glenview; at the time a fast developing suburb in Hamilton. The "Big 'A' Plaza" was the first shopping mall for New Zealand: The shopping mall was another new concept in retailing during that time. The Abels had opened three new shops at the Plaza in Glenview: A juvenile boutique, an electric appliance store, and a supermarket.

The Abels continued to purchase, sell and develop business after creating the "Big 'A' Plaza" shopping mall. The family company soon became composed of Erwin Abel, his wife Jean Abel, and his son Len Abel. The new Abel team would start with the purchase of the supermarket in Tauranga. The other purchases would soon expand to two discount grocery stores, properties in Hamilton and Rotorua, and the acquisition of company to manufacture household cleansers and hardware goods.

From 1958 to 1961, Abel had served on the board of directors for Foodstuffs Limited, a New Zealand grocery and liquor retailer—Abel had served on the Board in Auckland. After Abel was a consultant for Pak n' Save's development—a New Zealand retail grocery warehouse chain that provides discount goods—he was considered highly influential and the Foodstuffs Limited board of directors became re-interested and impressed with Abel; the Directors asked him to rejoined the board of directors at Foodstuffs Limited starting in 1970 and ending in 1982.

Personal life[edit]

In 1968, Abel and his wife decided to move from their home in Hillcrest to a new property ranging 26 acres in Tamahere; the property was called Malabar Farm. One of the appeals of their new residence was that the land could support the breeding and raising of race horses. It was at this farm that the Abels would start to breed thoroughbred race horses and raised a number of winners; the most notable was Van Der Hum whom, in 1976, won the Melbourne Cup.

Abel had a serious interest in athletics and in his older years became quite an accomplished athlete. His main focus and interests in athletics lied in cross-country running and marathon running. In 1965, Abel ran his first marathon. In 1981, at the New Zealand Veteran's Championships, Abel—at the age of 70—had competed and won in four different events: The over 400 meter run, the over 800 meter run, the over 1500 meter run, and the over 5000 meter run. In 1983, at the All-American Championships in Texas, Abel had won the gold medal for the 1500 meter in the 70 – 74 age group.

In 1982, the Abel's had finally sold their last two businesses: The supermarkets in Glenview and Hillcrest. The family decision was made on a couple of factors, however, the most important reasoning was that their son, Len, died that year due to poor health; this left the Abel couple to run two businesses past their ages of retirement, a grossly unwanted burden during their time of mourning.

Retirement & death[edit]

In Abel's retirement he maintained his athletic endeavours (i.e. competitive cross-country running and marathon running). Both him and his wife, Jean, also continued to breed, raise, and race thoroughbreds. In addition to Abel's other activities, he enjoyed growing and maintaining an organic vegetable garden; he served as a member of the Soil and Health Association of New Zealand. Abel even took up practising yoga for relaxation and to sustain mental vitality.

In 1989, Abel and his wife, Jean, sold their home—Malabar Farm—and bought a more suitable property for their senior years; they moved to the Alandale Retirement Village, just outside Hamilton, by purchasing one of its villas. On 1 April 1995, Erwin Abel died at the Waikato Hospital in Hamilton. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for twelve years before finally succumbing to the condition. Abel was survived by his wife, Jean (whom died in 1997), and his three daughters.


  1. ^ Williams, Lynette J. "Erwin Leonard Guy Abel". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved December 2011.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. ^
  • Lynette J. Williams. 'Abel, Erwin Leonard Guy', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30 October 2012