Sunday, 12 June 2016


Those of us who were alive in 1976, probably best remember it for the legendary long hot summer, or perhaps the birth of punk. But for Shinali McCusker, it will always be the year that her newly wed parents, Kirit and Daksha Patel, opened their pharmacy at 3-5 Westow Hill. Using old fittings from a closing down grocery store, they set up shop in what had been a dress makers. 
Although initially lacking in business skills, "Dad was great at customer service", Shinali tells me. "He went beyond his role as a pharmacist and was part of the community", a sentiment reflected in the support Sefgrove has received , in this, their 40th anniversary year. And it's those years of customer service that have kept them going. Recently, the future has seemed more uncertain, with rumours of Superdrug opening along the road, and Lloyds Pharmacy also moving into the area, running dispensaries in some surgeries, and about to take over the running of Sainsbury's in-store pharmacies. On top of this, the government are trying to streamline the industry, by centralising prescription distribution and reducing the number of chemists. But Shinali is not about to let her father's legacy slip away. She started working for her parents in her teens as a saturday girl, and despite a desire to study art, eventually followed her father's footsteps, taking over the running of Sefgrove in 2008. Despite the uncertainties, Shinali recently embarked on a refurbishment of the store. As well as bright new fixtures and fittings, the consultation room has been extended, and the business now provides a travel clinic, and private testing. They also hope to be able to bid for more testing and services within the NHS. Meanwhile, there is still more to be done to the premises; the front of the building needs refreshing , and the cramped space behind the counter will be extended. The perfumery and cosmetics counter, which has always been a big part of the business, is increasingly stocking more niche products that aren't available everywhere else, including in the future the possibility of small scale local brands.
As the only qualified pharmacist in the business, by law, Shinali has to be on the premises throughout opening hours, so sadly doesn't get to explore the Triangle as much as she'd like. She recalls one winter a few years ago, when despite the heaviest snowfall in living memory, she had to get up at 4am in order to get from her home in Shirley on foot, to open up on time. Despite a complete lack of traffic that day, the shop was busy with local shoppers. The mood was fun, with people enjoying the snow and the car free streets. I know it's a theme I come back to again and again, but Shinali, like so many others, is animated when it comes to the depth of local community feeling. She was particularly grateful to staff at Planta, along the street, who provided her with crates to help move their stock while the shop was refurbished, while other locals have volunteered to come in and help with future window displays, which Shinali's artistic side is keen to develop.
One thing that had always intrigued me was the odd name of the business, which doesn't seem to have any connection to the proprietors or the type of business. Apparently when he started the business, Kirit, simply acquired the name at Companies House, and never thought any more about it. Odd as it may be, it would be even odder to lose such an established pillar of the community, so if and when the big boys open down the road, please do continue to support a business that's been supporting the community for 40 years.

Shinali McCusker

020 8670 5198

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