The story behind Bob’s Store
17 May, 2021, 8:00 pm
BANWARI Lal Sadhu travelled from India more than 50 years ago to seek greener pastures on a tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
He had heard of the opportunities available in Fiji as throngs of Indians braved the perilous 11,500km journey to work the sugarcane plantations under the Colonial Government’s indentured labourer system.
Once he set foot on the Fijian soil, Mr Sadhu surveyed the land and decided to set up shop in Vuci, Nausori.
Nausori was home to one of the 10 sugar mills in operation in the late 1800s and he knew there were trade opportunities with mill workers and the indentured labourers who worked the fields.
He established a shop that became known as Sadhus store.
The business weathered climatic and political upheavals over the years until it was formally registered as Bob’s Store in 1991. A name that remains until today.
Over the years, the operation of the store has been passed from one generation to another.
Current owner and great-grandson of the founder Allen Prasad told The Fiji Times the reason behind establishing Sadhus store by his great-grandfather was to give his family a means of survival and also to provide locals a convenient place to obtain basic necessities.
“My great-grandfather started the store to help people of the community so they could buy things easily near their house,” he said.
“Because my great-grandfather was a very respected religious man from India, we were not allowed to sell meat or anything that was non-vegetarian.
“At that time there were a lot of people who were strict vegetarians.
“However, over the years, we have changed our service by including all the items needed in a household so that no one in the community is left out.
“Today, we have almost everything in our store from ropes needed during hurricane season, plumbing products, groceries to toys for kids.”
He said after Mr Sadhus death, his grandfather Sadhu Ram Lal took over the business.
“Mr Sadhu died at the age of 108 in 1974 and he remained very active in the business even in his old age.
“However, just before his death he started to lose his sight so my grandfather took over the business.”
He said Mr Sadhu Lal, took over the business when he was only 10 years old.
“My grandfather controlled the business until 1978 and after that we rented out the store for about five years.
“After my grandmother’s death in 1978, my grandfather moved in with my brother and the shop was rented by a Mr Raj Kumar.
“Mr Kumar later passed away and to keep our family business running, my father took over.”
He said during his grandfather’s control, the store was renamed B Ramlal store.
“In 1991 my father Rajendra Prasad – who was commonly known as Bob – took over the store and all the legal registration was done. It became known as Bob’s Store.”
Mr Prasad said he took over the business as his father’s health started deteriorating.
“Over the years, we have done maintenance and changed some of the structural parts, however, we did not change it completely.
“Everything we did was for the comfort of our customers.
“The store was a small, wooden structure before, now it’s concrete and bright.
“We have also increased space and added more shelves so we can increase the range of stock for customers and allow them to move around and pick their own products.
“As the business grew, we needed to secure the space as well for the safety of our customers, so we have installed CCTV cameras.
“We have managed to keep the integrity of the store because we wanted to keep our great-grandfather and grandfathers legacies and what they started alive.”
He said over the years, they faced challenges, however, they haven’t allowed anything to impact their operations.
“We made some changes in our service, but never ceased our operation.
“The cyclones and small changes in the country affected us in some way or the other, but we stood strong because this store was entrusted to me by my elders and I need to protect it.
“When my grandfather took over, we started importing potatoes and onions directly from New Zealand, but later stopped it because of the cost and competition in the market.
“Later on, I started wholesaling of products, but later stopped because of some challenges so now we mostly focus on retailing.
“However, in future as the situation improves, we might start with the wholesale business again.
“Over the years, with the introduction of new technologies, we have moved forward from calculators to cash tills to computers.”
He said like every other business, COVID-19 had affected his business as well.
“During the first lockdown last year, we were not prepared and we didn’t have enough stock so this time we ensured that we had enough stock of food items for the people of our community.
“We also reduced our staff numbers. Before we had 15 to 30 staff, now we only have five to six staff.”
Mr Prasad said there were plans to build a supermarket.
“We are not really sure because our children are studying in different fields and they won’t be able to take over the family business.”