Part 4 (the final part) – This place.
This place is not just a place of business. Not to me. There is so much more wrapped up in the walls that make up Aziz & Company than the day-to-day business of selling handicrafts that you may see on the surface.
This place is where I have spent all of my adult life, now close to fifty years. Customers have come in and told me they remember seeing me play on piles of bedspreads or having my diaper changed on the counter.
This place is where I spent all of my summers growing up. Not at the beach, or a cottage or on vacation like the other students in my school would report each September when we were back in class. No, my pat answer was always the same. “What did I do this summer? I worked in the store.”
This place has sold everything. When it first opened it was a handicraft store that also sold dahl (lentils), pickles and spices. In high school I was known as the kid whose parents owned the ‘head shop’. I had to ask someone what that meant. For a long time we were the Indian store that sold rock and roll flags till New Kids on the Block took over the airwaves and the t-shirts we sold with their individual faces on it literally put my sister through a year of university. On a side note, Joey was the bestseller. I always felt bad for Jordan, his shirt didn’t sell as well 😦
This place was where I was asked out on my first date. I barely knew boys existed until a long-haired blonde with a very endearing smile asked me to join him at a local pub.
This place is where I had my first kiss. As far as first kisses go, it was awful. Nothing compared to my last first kiss. Now that smooch melted my bones…swoon.
This place became my life when my father had a massive heart attack in 1990 veering me off my intended life plan of living in India, married with six children and opening a school to teach English. Instead, I ended up behind the same counters I had grown to resent selling wares and keeping my parents dream alive while slowly rescinding my own.
This place has seen some very lean times. When the heavy metal shirts no longer looked like they were going to pay the rent, I told my father I wanted to switch back to handmade goods and clothing from abroad. He told me he’d eat his shoe if I sold any of the handwoven Guatemalan jackets I imported. I sold them all, he never ate his shoe and the store started it’s transformation back to its original glory selling goods made entirely by hand, clothing with colour and culture and housewares from Indonesia, Africa and India.
This place almost ended up in a mall. After I took over the business I began to wonder if we would do better in a shopping mall where foot traffic was more guaranteed. I rented a cart in the Carlingwood mall to test the market. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the only thing I could sell successfully was the stuff that didn’t look ethnic. And sell it I did. The money was amazing but my soul felt wretched, not to mention I ate everything I could smell coming out of the food court.
This place was once one of two locations. For a full but brief year in 1994 we had a second location in the Byward Market. That store on Dalhousie thrived from the moment it was open. The energy was electric, the clientele was different and the store felt more like my own place than the one I had grown up in from it’s hand painted ceilings to the custom made shelving I stained and assembled myself. Close to the end of that first year lease my father had started to take a turn for the worse and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain both stores and still take care of him. One of the locations had to close. It wasn’t a hard decision to make. The 365 Bank location was older and established and I knew my parent’s hearts were there so 277 Dalhousie, as lovely as it was, closed and a little piece of me died with it.
This place has cradled me in the lowest moments of my life after my father died by giving me purpose and the means to keep his memory and legacy alive.
This place may have prevented me from taking proper vacations, it may have turned me into the workaholic that I am today and it may be the reason I have issues with letting myself relax but it has also been the greatest teacher I will ever know, the greatest developer of my personality and the greatest gift I have ever been given.
This is not a store to me. It is a place of transformation, of magic and of love. I have seen customers walk out of our store, their bad days turned around by a smile from us or a purchase of something that enhances their spiritual life on a level that they didn’t know existed. I have seen customers grow up alongside me. I have seen them through their heartaches and heart joys and I have seen them bring their own children in so that they can experience the same wonderment and excitement that the store gave to them.
This place is not just a business, it is a love affair.
This place is a piece of my heart.
This place is a piece of my soul.
This place is my home.
And while I wouldn’t advise anyone to run a business with their heart on their sleeve as I have done, I also wouldn’t change one day of this journey or the incredible life lessons it has taught me. I am grateful for every drop of sweat, every tear of joy and sorrow and every moment both unsettling and enriching.
When the doors close on October 1st 2017 it will be closing one of the longest chapters in the book of my life. A book made more meaningful by the values I have learned there.
And though the doors will close, the tears will fall and the sadness may overwhelm, my heart will be full for I know it was my my familial right, my honour, my privilege, my dream I didn’t know was my dream, and my sincere pride to be a part of its history.
Dear customers (some who have become dear friends) over the last five decades, thank you for all the smiles, the journey and above all the support. Thank you for all the Christmases, the birthdays, the anniversaries, the holidays and the special life moments you made us a part of.
Dear suppliers (some who have become dear friends) over the last five decades, thank you for the beautiful goods, the patience when times were tough and for being more like family than business partners. Thank you for helping to usher in two devoted daughters to a new generation of business and for helping us carry out our parent’s legacy.
And finally, dear Aziz & Company, thank you for molding me into the confident, self-assured, disciplined human being that I am today. I am forever linked to you, indebted to you and in love with everything you have done for me and for the people you have touched.
Peace and love to all.