Inspired by her local ‘offy’, Parnell Mini Market, local contributor Olivia Mesce celebrates owner Mohammed Huq and the humble corner shop.
Where do you go when you run out of toilet paper at 9pm on a Sunday? Where do you duck into when it’s pouring down with rain and you need shelter while you wait for the No.8 bus? And, when a global pandemic brings the world to a halt and Tesco’s aisles are bare but you’re craving beans on toast, who turns out to be your saving grace?
The corner shop.
Parnell Mini Market, run by Mohammed Huq, is no different to all corner shops – a quiet, but essential pillar for every local neighbourhood.
Unlike shops on the high street, corner shops are uniquely placed right in the middle of residential streets, meaning that they are the nearest, and first, port of call when residents need any products. Parnell Minimarket is part of the lauded Donnybrook Estate.
The day we speak, the beam of the shop’s neon ‘open’ sign lights up a dark October evening. Huq greets a regular who lets him know she won’t be around tomorrow but she’ll be back in the day after.
Huq was already familiar with this area. Despite spending most of life in Dagenham, he lived in Globe Road for a handful of years with his wife. He has since moved back to raise his son in a house with more space, but when a friend told him there was a shop to let, he knew would return to the Roman Road area.
‘It was close to Victoria Park, it was on the corner and the neighbourhood around here is nice and residential. So I knew it was perfect.’
Huq has only owned the shop for 18 months, but being an everyday presence in people’s lives, he has already built a strong rapport with locals. This, he says, has been further strengthened during lockdown with an influx of new customers who are now regulars.
‘The best thing is the customers’ he tells me adamantly. ‘There are definitely more good than bad’ he laughs.
A particularly heartwarming example is when his trolley that he uses to move his supplies was stolen, and a regular customer bought them their own.
‘They saw I was struggling to move all of my things into the shop,’ says Huq. ‘And this customer had one at home so they bought me theirs.’
If you have had the pleasure of meeting Huq, it will come as no surprise that it was his love and experience in customer service that encouraged him to open his own shop, having worked in customer service roles all his life.
Before opening Parnell Mini Market, he was the manager at the AMT Coffee branch in St. Pancras International Station.
‘I loved meeting so many different people there. You would just talk to them and get comfortable chatting to people on their journeys. That gave me the confidence to open my own shop.’
It’s clear from the fondness with which Huq talks about chatting with his customers that his role as a local shopkeeper goes beyond providing late-night necessities; he is a friend of the community and is available for a conversation at your convenience.
One of his favourite moments was when he witnessed a regular customer win hundreds of pounds on a scratch card. ‘They came in and played every day, so it was really exciting.’
Parnell Mini-Market, also known to locals as ‘Huq’s Neighbours’, is of close proximity to Victoria Park. During summer months Huq sees a big boost of sales from the nearby picnickers and festival-goers.
No wonder then, that a third of the shop is devoted to alcohol, the vast range runs floor to ceiling on the main wall and towers behind the till. From premium spirits and champagne, to craft beers and cherry wine, Huq has curated an impressively broad selection.
However, running a corner shop is not easy work, Huq’s usual day starts with a very early morning, to get the shop open for business by 7am, and finishes around midnight. He juggles unpacking deliveries and trips to the cash and carry between managing his team of staff and being a present, friendly face behind the counter.
‘The main challenge is theft from troubled school kids’. And he tells me he is especially concerned when he sees bullying.
Young or old, rich or poor, the corner shop is a crossing point for every member of the neighbourhood on a nearly daily basis. Huq is often the first person someone speaks to in the morning, and the last person someone speaks to on their way home. As most customers become regulars known on a first name basis, the corner shop is not just a place of convenience, but also of friendship.
If you like this article, you might also want to see these photographs of corner shops at night.
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