One of the mainstays of downtown Sawbridgeworth and a shopkeeper who has supported the community through the coronavirus lockdowns walks away from his store.
Don Patel has announced he is leaving The Tuck Shop in Bell Street after 35 years, with the stress of providing essentials to his customers throughout the pandemic being key to his decision.
“I’m 64 – it got to a point after those 18 months that I realized what life is like,” said Don, who admitted his wife Smita played a role in the decision.
“This is not a retreat – I call it a day as a retailer and I take time,” he added.
Don came to town after being the victim of a theft from his east London store. “I had a post office in Bow and one evening I was arrested at gunpoint,” Don said.
He sold his shop in London to another postmaster and after hearing a friend living in Loughton talk about a shop for sale in Sawbridgeworth he decided to take a look.
“I drove into town and it was a beautiful sunny day,” Don said. “I said ‘this is a lovely place to live’ and took the store.”
Initially he sold a small unit, but over the years he took over the block and expanded his line of items for sale, from groceries to greeting cards and unlicensed sales.
After first commuting from east London, he moved to the city, established himself in the community and became a city councilor.
Aside from his store becoming a staple of the city, Don also started raising funds for many local causes, with the Hailey Center at Sayesbury Manor receiving £ 3,000 and the Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall receiving new flooring.
He has also helped raise £ 5million for the breast cancer screening service at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, hosting Bollywood Nights and other events to raise funds.
Don, born Dinesh, grew up in a Ugandan jungle, but his father’s entrepreneurial efforts have resulted in the family becoming one of the richest in the country. After starting out with a store in the Ugandan countryside, his father became the army’s main supplier and went on to have a textile factory.
Young Dinesh was sent to a boarding school in Birmingham at the age of 11 and soon in 1972 the rest of the family joined him in the UK after notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin exiled Asians from the country from East Africa.
“He went from a million pounds of pocket money to zero,” Don said of his father, meaning that as an older brother he started working at the age of 14. years to support the family.
Never afraid of hard work, in recent years Don has been working seven days a week, providing customers with free door-to-door delivery and making sure his store is stocked in the event of a shortage.
Don thinks now is the right time to go as he gifted his daughter Kanika an ‘Indian wedding’ in August – although Covid’s curtailed 400 guest list falls short of the full deal he does. and Smita were 38 years ago when 4,000 people were there.
After a well-deserved rest, he plans to play more golf and has a trip to the jungle in mind, this time to the Massai Mara reserve in Kenya.
But he’s happy The Tuck Shop is in good hands after the Oct. 24 departures, as his younger brothers Dharmesh and Haresh take the reins.
He thinks they will bring innovations to the store because they are more tech savvy, but he will always be there to support it. “Being the oldest of the brothers, I’m going to give them a hand until they get their wings,” he said.
He will continue to serve on city council, hoping to devote more time to it and also focus more on his charitable work, which he says is part of his culture.
“We were raised to be civilians and our culture – Hindu – is a way of life and that is to take care of each other.”