UAE: Iconic Sharjah stationery shop closes after 41 years
People would pick up newspapers, magazines at the Rolla stall before heading to work.
Newsstands are the kind of a city landmark you hardly ever notice. Like benches and bike stands, you acknowledge them — or their absence — only when you seek one out. As far as news stands are concerned, nowadays, that doesn’t happen very often.
In a sign of the changing times where everything is going digital, a four-decade old news stand - Kalpaka Stationary - finally downed its shutters, bringing 41-year-old saga to an end.
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In a world that avidly consumes content on screens, 67-year-old Athinan Ashokan, decided to call it quits since “business is no longer what it used to be”.
Located in Sharjah’s bustling Ghurair neighbourhood, opposite the Rolla Bus Terminal, Kalpaka Stationary officially closed down last week, Ashokan told Khaleej Times. His family, including his wife and two kids, had been living in the same building for close to 25 years.
After selling thousands of newspapers and magazines from all over the world, including the Khaleej Times newspaper, the pandemic served dealt a final blow. “I began Kalpaka Stationary as a readymade garments shop, but there weren’t many newsstands when I arrived here in 74. That’s why I decided to open one in 1980,” said the Malayalee from Kerala’s Kanhangad district.
Ashokan arrived in the UAE in August 1974 onboard a ship. “I was only 20-years-old when I arrived here. I came here on a work visa and spent some years working in a hotel, a readymade shop, and a supermarket. I saved every penny I made and opened the shop,” he said.
Named after the acclaimed Kalpaka Tourist Home in Kozhikode, Kerala, in the heydays, from 6am to 12am, the shop would sell at least 30 magazines and over 50 newspapers in various languages. “We were also popular for greeting cards. During Eid or Christmas or New Year, the shop became so crowded. I wouldn’t even have time to have tea,” he said.
“Rolla is a bustling neighbourhood. People would stop at the stall before going to work and pick up their favourite newspaper or magazine. We had all kinds of titles - women’s magazines, celebrity news, romance stories and newspapers from India, Ethiopia, Sri Lankan, Pakistan, and Indonesia,” he added.
The kiosk also sold calendars, stamps, belts, purses, novels, and other gifting and novelty items.
However, Kalpaka Stationary was much more than a newsstand and stationery store. Since it was strategically located near Rolla Park, it attracted visitors from all over. It also served as a tourist and career guide for hundreds and thousands of expatriates who arrived in the UAE in search of better opportunities.
“People would come seeking advice on places to stay, jobs, and good restaurants. Travel agents from Kerala would tell visitors to come to our shop in case they needed help. I’ve assisted so many people over the years,” said Ashokan. Moreover, Ashokan, who ran the newsstand with his older brother Gangadharan also served as sources for journalists.
“Whenever we needed to confirm reports about an incident in the Rolla area, we would call one of the brothers,” said Sadiq Kavil, a journalist with Malayalam daily Manorama Gulf.
Ashokan said he is not leaving the UAE empty-handed. A father to two children – a son and a daughter, Ashokan said he could provide his family with a good life. The couple are preparing to return to Kerala in August, said his wife, Reeja. “We are very upset about leaving the UAE, of course. We have so many memories here. My children are going to continue living here. We are hoping we can visit them,” she added.
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