NAWAZ RAJA closed his shop for the final time last night after 35 years in Blackbird Leys and admitted: “My heart is weeping.”
The 78-year-old owner of the Best One shop in Balfour Road - who is known as Raja throughout the community – finally called it a day yesterday, and was sent off into his retirement by a celebration organised by his customers and friends that he now calls family.
Mr Raja, who travels some 40 miles from Uxbridge to be in his store by 6am each day, said: “Where I live, I never see anybody, I could collapse and nobody would know. But here, these people are my family now.
“I do everything I can to help the people of Blackbird Leys.
“There are a lot of good people here in this community, I am going to miss them.
“My heart is weeping.”
Kelly Probets, 32, has shopped in Best One for her whole life.
She said: “I’ve been shopping there since I was in a buggy, he’s a really lovely man. In the whole of the last 35 years he’s only had six weeks off.”
She added that Mr Raja has done more for the area than just selling food: “If you couldn’t afford your food, he’d give it to you and let you pay him back.
“He has all the older men in for coffee every morning. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
But Mr Raja was modest about his contributions to Blackbird Leys.
“I’ve just tried to give good service to the people of this community,” he said. “Starting out was very hard, because I was the new man on the block. But things got easier. I’ve had good times and bad times.”
He said he was selling on the shop before his health deteriorated, adding: “I’m 78 and it took a long time to sell the shop on. I wanted to do it now while I still can.”
Mr Raja will spend the first few weeks of his retirement in his native Pakistan, to look after his frail sister.
He said: “My sister is 86 and she has no one else to look after her, but it’s not a permanent move.”
Liam McCrohon works at the J E Pill & Sons Butcher shop next door to Best One.
He said: “It’s his shop. When people say where they’re going, they say they’re going to Raja’s, not Best One.”
Mr McCrohon, 30, said: “A lot of people like me have grown up with him there. It’ll be strange without him, he’s always been there.
“I wish him all the best.”