A married couple are retiring after running a Bermondsey newsagent as “a shop for the community” for 36 years – but have promised to keep a close eye on the new owners.
Joe and Trish Patel have run Vishal Supermarket – named after their son – on Southwark Park Road since 1985 and closed up for the last time on Saturday, May 15.
Speaking to the News from the shop on Friday, Joe said: “When I started it was a different Bermondsey… Our time has gone here, and gradually we came to know the people. We’ve seen so many generations come through.”
The outside of the shop was decorated with balloons celebrating Joe and Trish’s long tenure, while someone else had put bunches of flowers on the wall by the front door. And at least five people came inside to say goodbye to Joe and Trish in the space of about 45 minutes, some with flowers, several in tears.
Trish said: “The people of Bermondsey really embraced us as a family. They seem more like a family now than just customers. They really took us in. It will be very sad to leave.
“We’ve been having tears all week, everyone’s been coming to say bye and hugging and crying. We never thought that we’d feel so emotional because something you’ve done for so long you take for granted.”
Joe said he had always thought of their newsagent as a service to the community, just as customers had served him.
“Just imagine someone spends £20 every two or three days, they’re spending nearly £100 a week with you. That’s loyalty. And then one day they haven’t got money. I say ‘take whatever you want and pay me when you can’. You help people because you know them, and they know you and they help you by coming here.
“The shop has given me my whole life. I always thought in my heart to look after the people.”
Like with many small businesses, the past year has been hard for Vishal Supermarket but Joe said he always felt he needed to keep the shop open to support local people
“I believe in looking after the elderly. Especially the last couple of years, they ring up and say Joe can we have milk, bread, please deliver. My wife goes to deliver. That’s more like service to the community, not only money, not only business. It’s a community sort of shop. That’s the way I wanted it. If you haven’t got money, you pay me next day or when you have got money.”
Joe and Trish said they are now planning to relax at their home in Clapham, although it seems Joe will still often be in the Bermondsey area. He said he wants to volunteer with the redevelopment of Bermondsey’s Blue market and other local causes – as well as keep an eye on the new shop owners.
“We’re selling on the shop but it will be the same shop,” he added. “I’ve told the new people about the area and I’ve guided them. I’ve said ‘look this is the way you run the shop, you won’t be running it your way.’
“I will be checking in on them. For a few months I will be talking to the customers outside and I will have a word with them and see what kind of response I get from them. If there’s anything [the new owners] need to do, I will come and brief them and guide them [and say] ‘this is the way you need to do it otherwise you will lose your custom.”
Reflecting on their time running the shop, Joe added: “Money is not everything – it’s human love that people need.”