Indian American convenience store owners ponder crisis-survival

November 23rd, 2008 - 3:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Tampa (Florida), Nov 23 (IANS) Indian American businessmen owning or running convenience stores in the US gathered here Saturday to discuss ways to survive the current financial turmoil as their businesses dropped 20 percent on average in recent months. Organised by the Asian American Convenience Stores Association (AACSA), Indian American businessmen running convenience stores and gas stations shared their experiences and gave tips to each other on how to avoid closure or being run out of business in this period of crisis.

“As most of these stores are family run businesses, many of them have started themselves working at the stores and gas stations and laid off their employees,” Satya Shaw, president AACSA told IANS.

AACSA was founded in 2005 to fight alleged racial discrimination and racial profiling against Indian American convenience store owners in the wake of arrest of over 40 Indian Americans in Atlanta for allegedly selling substances that can be used as an ingredient for methamphetamine, a dangerous drug.

In the three annual conventions since then, the AACSA — now having a membership of over 12,000, representing 20,000 stores and gas stations — concentrated on educating its members on how to avoid such legal entanglement and protect themselves from theft and armed robbery, which has been a threat to them.

Though the name suggests Asian Americans, more than four-fifths of its members are Indian American store owners, of which a overwhelming majority are people from Gujarat.

“This year, it is the current economic crisis and the drop in our business, which topped our agenda,” Shaw said at the conclusion of the fourth annual AACSA Convention held at the India Convention Centre in Tampa.

“Income is down, because the volume (of trade) has dropped,” Shaw said. “Owners are going back to work themselves, to reduce the cost of operation,” he added.

“People (customers) have changed their habits due to rising prices. That is why demand has come down. Our business has dropped about 20 percent on an average”, said Mahesh “Mike” Shah, who owns 100 gas stations and convenience stores in Florida and supplies 200 additional such stores.

“Obviously, when every business is hurt - the banking industry, real estate and new construction — we can’t remain untouched,” he said.

And unlike the banking and auto sectors, Shah observed convenience store owners can’t hope for a bailout package. “So, we have to work out our own way to overcome this,” he said, hoping that things would improve in the next year and half.

Michael Davis, vice president of National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), praised the resilience of the Indian American convenience store owners, who according to him, know the best how to survive under such adverse circumstances.

NACS is the apex national body of convenience stores in the US. Davis said there are more than 146,000 convenience stores in the United States with combined turnover of $570 billion, of which AACSA estimates 50,000 convenience stores are run and operated by Indian Americans. “There is no town in America, without an Indian store owner,” he said.

It is because of their resilience, Davis said, that he has hardly come across the closure of a convenience store owned by an Indian American. “They are excellent merchants and good negotiators,” he said.

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