Custom House newsagent celebrates 30 years behind the counter
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:08 28 July 2020
A newsagent who faced racist taunts when he first took over a shop is celebrating 30 years in business.
Bharat Desai bought Butchers Road Newsagent in Custom House in 1990 when it was then known as Wes’s.
But his arrival wasn’t welcomed by everyone at that time with some neighbours taking against an Indian immigrant moving into the area.
However, 30 years later and in spite of some opposition, the shop is going strong with Bharat still opening up every day to welcome customers who have embraced him and given him the affectionate nickname “Tom”.
His son, Vikesh Desai, reflecting on his dad’s success in the trade, said: “It comes down to his personality and his kindness to the community.
“He’s kept regular customers coming for 30 years.
“At the beginning things were really difficult. There was a lot of racism when he originally got the shop.
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“One time someone drove their car into the front of the shop.
“A few people took against my dad because he’s brown.
“But the racism died out. A lot of people helped my dad during that time. They tried to protect him,” he added.
Vikesh, 31, explained that his dad didn’t have a lot of money when he arrived from Gujarat at the age of about 20, but he managed to find a job in a factory before his uncle helped him to get the keys to the store.
Bharat started a family, having three sons, and settled into the community. And friends and customers from the neighbourhood turned out to surprise him on Saturday, July 25 to celebrate the 30 year milestone and say a big thank you. The loyal shopkeeper was even presented with an achievement award from customers and neighbours which carried the inscription “with many thanks for your contribution to the community”.
“I don’t think anyone has ever done anything like that for him,” Vikesh said.
Now in his 60s, Bharat is doing less in the shop, but his commitment to neighbours has remained strong, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when he took the decision to extend the shop’s opening hours so people could get their supplies.
Vikesh, who has taken over the day-to-day running of the shop, said: “He feels like his customers are his family.”
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