For years, Shashi and Pallu Patel, and their two sons Meeten and Deepen have opened their store on Christmas Day to lonely Londoners, but this year was different.
A post advertising the annual event on Facebook was shared nearly 60,000 times and commented on by TV, radio and news outlets in the UK and beyond.
Shashi describes the coverage as “surreal”. “All we wanted to do was cheer people up on Christmas Day and make a few people laugh. We never expected to reach so many people from so far away,” she says.
More than 100 people attended the event this year making it the busiest yet. Asked what he hoped would come from the event’s fame, Meeten says: “It’d be great if other shops did the same and create a network of places for lonely people to go next year.”
It’s just one example of the store’s commitment to the local community that includes checking in on vulnerable and elderly customers, raising money for good causes and occasionally even saving their customers’ lives.
“After a customer hadn’t visited in a few days, we went round and noticed that the letters were piled up and several days of milk were on the doorstep,” Pallu explains.
“We called an ambulance and found she’d fallen down three days before and been unable to get up.”
In another instance, Deepen saved a disabled customer who’d had a stroke when delivering his groceries and in another Shashi received a bravery award after saving residents in a nearby building from a fire. “A few minutes more and I don’t know what would have happened,” she says.
Describing the family’s approach to the shop, Meeten says: “Our parents told us that the role of a local shopkeeper is to help everyone around you. Only a local shopkeeper will know hundreds and hundreds of local people so we’re ideally placed to help people in their day-to-day lives.”
Like many independent shops, one of the biggest challenges the store has faced was the opening of Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local stores nearby.
Meeten says: “Their prices were a lot higher than ours, but because of the qualities associated with supermarkets people still thought they were cheaper. We had to work hard to challenge that perception.”
This included increasing the newsagent’s use of outside signs and using them to show price comparisons on key lines with the rival stores. The strategy worked.
“We went from losing business to having customers coming back and telling us how much more expensive it is in the new stores,” he says.
The family also increased the use of price-marked packs to further drive home the message.
Pallu says he is now proud of the prices they can offer customers. "When customers ask how much something is, we're proud to be able to offer prices the same or lower than the supermarkets."