The Asian Shopkeeper

Imagine a place where everything closes at 5pm weekdays, between 1pm and 3pm on Saturdays, while on Sundays only newsagents open between 7am and 11am. It’s a place where if you needed milk after the sun has set you would have to ask a neighbour, rob a cow or simply go without. In this place smokers were allowed to run out of cigarettes whilst watching The Sweeney and Minder on TV, forcing them to fall back on domestic violence to help calm their fraying, nicotine starved-nerves. For the people of the UK prior to the mid-Eighties, once the shops had closed they were left in a twilight zone, denied the right to buy cider, scotch eggs and children’s cricket sets in dirty polythene bags. Times were tough for the people of the British Isles; that was until an unlikely saviour came to town: the Asian shopkeeper.

Before the 1980s the traditional British corner shop was a benign affair that opened at 9am, shut for an hour at lunchtime, closed at 5pm and was made up of sparsely stocked shelves, jars of boiled sweets and a pomade-using owner in a brown warehouseman's coat. He was a man who, though blessed with good manners, was a little short on business sense, as for decades he had managed to keep his business closed during the only times that people actually had to do some shopping.

Enter the Asian shopkeeper: sometimes from India but mostly from Pakistan, here was a man who had grafted hard in the mills of northern England, avoided the pitfalls of UK life in the Sixties and Seventies (discos, booze and herpes) and saved his money in order to become his own boss and carve out a better future for his children. As the corner shop keepers of old retired or died of an overdose of processed peas, the Asian shopkeeper bought up these malnourished emporiums and did something radical: he kept them open during the times when people actually needed them, and what was more, there was actually stuff on the shelves that people wanted and needed.

At last there was somewhere to go for the whacked out single mother on tranquilisers who in a fug of lithium had forgotten her child's dinner. Finally alcoholics had extended access to booze as the Asian shopkeeper satisfied his customers need for oblivion by stocking up on Tennants Super lager and White Lightning cider, which was a very generous act on his part considering his religion stoutly opposes the consumption of alcohol. The same can be said of the chill cabinet full of Danepak bacon that would be sold along with the Sunday papers.

The Asian shopkeeper had timed his run perfectly as by the end of the Eighties, courtesy of rave culture, the UK had become a 24-hour society with cigarettes, chewing gum and bottled water being punted out at all hours. However, the Asian shopkeeper became a victim of his own success as the big boys began to muscle in on his act with Tesco Metro and Sainsbury Local piling it high and selling it cheap around the clock.

The Asian shopkeeper revolutionised British retail by opening all hours to sell booze and bacon. For his dedication to duty, and often scant regard for his own religious values, the Asian shopkeeper is now a Great Briton.